LA woman arrested on charges of smuggling US space technology to China

Key Points
  • Chinese national accused of smuggling restrictive tech to Hong Kong
  • Feds say components commonly used in military communications jammers
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A Los Angeles-area woman was arrested Tuesday by federal agents in a scheme to illegally export sensitive space communications technology to her native China, the U.S. Justice Department announced.

The equipment, worth more than $100,000, included components the government said are commonly used in military communications jammers.

The 14-count indictment described how Si Chen, also known as Cathy Chen, allegedly received payments for the illegal export of products. Payments were allegedly made through a bank account in China held by a family member.

The 32-year-old Chen was arraigned Tuesday afternoon in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles. If convicted of the charges, the defendant faces a statutory maximum penalty of 150 years in prison.

Chen is charged with conspiracy, money laundering, making false statements on an immigration application and using a forged passport. She also is charged with violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, which dates back to the 1970s and restricts and controls the export of certain technology and goods to foreign countries.

"Federal export laws are designed to protect American interests by preventing the proliferation of technology that may fall into the wrong hands, said acting U.S. Attorney Sandra R. Brown in a release.

"We will vigorously pursue those who traffic items that could harm our national security if they land in the wrong hands."

According to the indictment, Chen purchased and smuggled the sensitive items to China without obtaining the required licenses from the U.S. Department of Commerce. The documents allege she tried to avoid detection by removing the export-import warning stickers prior to shipping the components.

The government further alleges Chen rented an office in Pomona, California, under a false name and took delivery of the export-controlled items at this location. After obtaining the goods, the indictment alleges she then shipped the devices to Hong Kong, using a false name and providing false product descriptions and monetary values on the parcels.

The charges were contained in an indictment returned by a federal grand jury on April 27 and unsealed Tuesday after Chen's arrest. The probe began back in 2015 when federal agents intercepted a parcel that contained communications equipment sent by "Chunping Ji," the false name allegedly used by the defendant in the smuggle scheme.