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US engineer enamored with spy dramas gets 5 years for trying to sell secrets to Russian agent

  • A California engineer was sentenced to five years in prison for selling sensitive information about satellites to a person he believed was a Russian spy.
  • At one meeting with an undercover FBI agent, Gregory Allen Justice expressed a desire to have a relationship similar to one he saw depicted on the TV show "The Americans."
  • Justice, who could have received up to 35 years, has been in federal custody since his arrest in July 2016.

A scene from the Television show The Americans starring Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell.
Source: FX
A scene from the Television show The Americans starring Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell.

A federal judge on Monday sentenced a Southern California engineer to five years in prison for selling sensitive information about surveillance satellites to a person he believed was a Russian spy.

Gregory Allen Justice, 50, of Culver City worked on commercial and military satellites and could have received up to 35 years for the crime. His employer's name was never provided in the released government documents, but a Boeing spokesman confirmed Monday to CNBC it had a former employee by the name of Gregory Allen Justice.

"We won't be commenting on any of our practices related to this incident," the Boeing official said Monday.

Earlier this year, the Los Angeles Times reported that Justice worked for Boeing Satellite Systems in El Segundo, citing information provided last year by his father, William.

In announcing the five-year sentence, U.S. District Court Judge George H. Wu called the engineer's actions "extremely troubling" because he was willing to sell the information to someone he believed to be an agent of the Russian government.

In May, the engineer pleaded guilty to charges of economic espionage and violating the Arms Export Control Act for selling sensitive satellite information to an undercover FBI employee, whom Justice believed to be the Russian agent.

Government documents show Justice was paid $500 or $1,000 at four meetings with the undercover FBI agent after providing materials related to his employer's satellites. The series of meetings took place for a period of six months in 2016, and the government said Justice received $3,500 in cash in exchange for the trade secrets.

At one meeting with the undercover FBI agent, the engineer expressed a desire to have a relationship similar to one he saw depicted on the FX spy drama "The Americans."

One government filing in the case revealed Justice purchased just over $4,000 in online courses, including courses in "Spy Escape and Evasion" and "Legally Concealed," among others.

Also, it went on to say that Justice was heard during the spy scheme talking about how he not only liked the show "The Americans" but had other spy drama favorites too, including Jason Bourne and James Bond.

Justice offered to provide the person he believed to be a Russian agent with a tour of his employer's facilities where military spacecraft are built, according to the plea agreement reached earlier this year. He worked the late shift at the defense contractor, generally starting around 10 p.m.

"Unlike a reality television series, selling secrets to a foreign government is not entertaining, but in the wrong hands, threatens national security and puts American lives at risk," Danny Kennedy, the acting assistant director in charge of the FBI's L.A. Field Office said in a release.

The documents Justice provided contained technical data the government said was subject to federal control restrictions. Justice has been in federal custody since his arrest in July 2016.

"This defendant sold out his employer and betrayed his country in exchange for a few thousand dollars," Sandra R. Brown, the acting U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California, said in a statement. "His actions posed an imminent threat to our national security."

According to filings, Justice's family faced nearly $6,000 in medical costs from 2013 to 2015. He was also struggling to come up with money to repair a car.

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