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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
District of New Mexico

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Chinese National Pleads Guilty to Conspiring to Violate Arms Export Control Act

ALBUQUERQUE – Wentong Cai, 30, a Chinese national in the United States on a student Visa, pleaded guilty this morning to conspiracy to violate the Arms Export Control Act and the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) by scheming illegally to export defense articles with military application to the People’s Republic of China.  The guilty plea was announced by Damon P. Martinez, U.S. Attorney for the District of New Mexico, and Tom Hernandez, Acting Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in El Paso, Texas.

During today’s change of plea hearing, Wentong Cai pled guilty to Count 3 of a superseding indictment charging him and his cousin, Bo Cai, 29, also a Chinese national, with a scheme to illegally export sensors primarily manufactured for sale to the U.S. Department of Defense for use in high-level applications, such as line-of-sight stabilization and precision motion control systems.  The Arms Export Control Act and the ITAR prohibit the export of defense-related materials from the United States without obtaining a license or written approval from the U.S. Department of State.

In his plea agreement, Wentong Cai admitted that from March 2012 to Dec. 2013, he conspired illegally to export sensors from the United States to China without first obtaining the required export license.  At the time, Wentong Cai was a graduate student at Iowa State University studying microbiology and Bo Cai was employed by a technology company in China.  According to the plea agreement, Wentong Cai and Bo Cai embarked on an illegal scheme to smuggle sensors out of the United States to China for one of Bo Cai’s customers despite knowledge that the sensors could not be exported without a license and that the United States did not issue licenses to export the sensors to China.  As part of the scheme, Bo Cai enlisted Wentong Cai to acquire the sensors under the ruse that he planned to use the sensors in his research at Iowa State University.

Court filings indicate that the investigation of this case began in Oct. 2013, when an undercover HSI agent responded to Wentong Cai’s overtures. After negotiations by telephone and email, Bo Cai and Wentong Cai traveled to New Mexico in Dec. 2013, where they obtained a sensor from undercover HSI agents and developed a plan for smuggling the sensor out of the United States to China.  On Dec. 11, 2013, Bo Cai was arrested at an airport in Los Angeles, Calif., as he was preparing to board a flight to China after the sensor was discovered concealed in a computer speaker in his luggage.  Wentong Cai subsequently was arrested on Jan. 22, 2014, in Ames, Iowa.

Wentong Cai is in federal custody and remains detained pending his sentencing hearing, which has yet to be scheduled.  Under the terms of his plea agreement, Wentong Cai will be sentenced to 18 months of imprisonment.  He will be deported to China after he completes his prison sentence.

Bo Cai pleaded guilty on July 23, 2014, to all three-counts of the superseding indictment charging him with violating the Arms Export Control Act, smuggling, and conspiracy.  Bo Cai is in federal custody and remains detained pending his sentencing hearing.  He faces a statutory maximum penalty of 20 years in prison on the Arms Export Control Act charge, ten years in prison on the smuggling charge, and five years on the conspiracy charge.  Under the terms of his plea agreement, Bo Cai will be deported after completing his prison sentence. 

The Albuquerque office of HSI led the investigation of this case with assistance from the U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations, the Defense Security Service, HSI in Iowa and Los Angeles, Calif., and the FBI.  Iowa State University cooperated throughout with HSI’s investigation.  Assistant U.S. Attorneys Dean S. Tuckman and Fred J. Federici of the District of New Mexico are prosecuting the case with assistance from Deputy Chief Deborah Curtis and Trial Attorneys David Recker and Brian Fleming of the Justice Department’s National Security Division, Counterespionage Section, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Iowa.

Updated January 26, 2015