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A federal judge on Monday sentenced a former employee of a New Jersey-based defense contractor to more than five years in prison for taking U.S. military technology trade secrets to his native China, ignoring the man's contentions that it was an error in judgment and not done with wrongful intent.
Sixing Liu, a legal permanent resident who has lived in the U.S. for 19 years, told U.S. District Judge Stanley Chesler that "I did not break the law" and that political factors may have been involved in his prosecution.
Chesler responded emphatically.
"This is not a political prosecution," he said before sentencing Liu to 70 months in prison. "This case is about you violating the obligations that were clearly placed upon you, that you knew about and that you clearly understood. As you sit here today, you have no one to blame but yourself."
Liu, who holds a doctorate in engineering and is married with three children, was also ordered to pay a $15,000 fine. Chesler gave the U.S. attorney's office 90 days to make a recommendation on whether Liu must pay restitution.
Liu worked for Space & Navigation, a division of New York-based L3 Communications, in 2009 and 2010 as a senior staff engineer. He was arrested at his Deerfield, Ill., home in March 2011 and accused of taking restricted military data and presenting them at two conferences in China. Liu was found guilty last fall on six counts of exporting defense data without permission plus separate counts of possessing stolen trade secrets and lying to authorities.
The projects Liu's company worked on included technology for rocket launchers, mobile howitzers and missiles.
Prosecutors said during trial that Liu took a personal laptop computer to conferences on nanotechnology in Chongqing in 2009 and Shanghai in 2010 and, while there, gave presentations that described the technology he was working on. That violated U.S. laws that prohibit exporting defense materials without a license or approval from the Department of State, prosecutors said.
Thousands of company files were found on his computer when he arrived at Newark Liberty International Airport in 2010, prosecutors said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney L. Judson Welle called Liu "a serial thief" and urged Chesler to impose a sentence that would send a message to "any trusted insider with access and the ability to walk out the front door of his U.S. company with a hard drive." The government had sought a minimum sentence of eight years.
James Tunick, an attorney representing Liu, had sought a sentence of a year and a day, contending that Liu made "a grave error" but never intended to pass secrets to anyone in the Chinese government.
"He made a terrible mistake in having these files on his computer and going to China," Tunick said. "He never intended to harm anyone."