SANTA ANA, Calif. — A Chinese-born engineer convicted in the United States’ first economic espionage trial was sentenced Monday to more than 15 years in prison for stealing sensitive information on the U.S. space program with the intent of passing it to China.
Dongfan “Greg” Chung, a Boeing stress analyst with high-level security clearance, was convicted in July of six counts of economic espionage and other federal charges for storing 300,000 pages of sensitive papers in his Southern California home. Prosecutors alleged the papers included information about the U.S. space shuttle, a booster rocket and military troop transports.
Before reading the sentence, U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney said he didn’t know exactly what information Chung had passed to China over a 30-year period. But just taking the “treasure trove of documents” from Boeing Co., a key military contractor, constituted a serious crime, he said.
“What I do know is what he did, and what he did pass, hurt our national security and it hurt Boeing,” the judge said.
During brief remarks, Chung, 74, begged for a lenient sentence, saying he had taken the information to write a book.
“Your honor, I am not a spy, I am only an ordinary man,” said Chung, who wore a tan prison jumpsuit with his hands cuffed to a belly chain as his wife and son watched from the audience. “Your honor, I love this country. … Your honor, I beg your pardon and let me live with my family peacefully.”
Outside court, defense attorney Thomas Bienert said he would appeal.
“We have a different view of the facts and the evidence than the judge,” Bienert said. “We think the sentence should have been a lot less given the conduct involved.”
Prosecutors had requested a 20-year sentence, in part to send a message to other would-be spies, but the judge said he couldn’t determine exactly how much the breaches hurt Boeing and the nation.
Carney also cited the engineer’s age and frail health in going with a sentence of 15 years and eight months. Chung had a stroke within the past two years and was hospitalized several days ago with a gastrointestinal problem, Bienert said.
“It’s very difficult having to make a decision where someone is going to have to spend the rest of their adult life in prison,” Carney said. “I take no comfort or satisfaction in that.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Greg Staples noted in his sentencing papers that Chung had amassed $3 million in personal wealth while betraying his adopted country.
“I know that there’s a lot of emotion on the defense side about what impact the sentence will have on the defendant, but I would like to put on the record that we are here speaking for the rest of the families in the United States who go to bed at night expecting that the security of this country is being looked out for,” Staples said.
The government accused Chung of using his decades-long career at Boeing and Rockwell International to steal papers on aerospace and defense technologies.
During the non-jury trial, the government showed photos of every available surface in Chung’s home covered with thick stacks of paper, and investigators testified about finding more documents in a crawl space. They said Boeing invested $50 million in the technology over a five-year period.
Chung’s lawyers argued then – and again at sentencing – that he may have violated Boeing policy by bringing the papers home, but he didn’t break any laws, and the U.S. government couldn’t prove he had given secrets to China.
The government believes Chung began spying for the Chinese in the late 1970s, a few years after he became a naturalized U.S. citizen and was hired by Rockwell.
Chung worked for Rockwell until it was bought by Boeing in 1996. He stayed with the company until he was laid off in 2002, then was brought back a year later as a consultant. He was fired when the FBI began its investigation in 2006.
When agents searched Chung’s home in Orange that year, they discovered thousands of pages of documents on a phased-array antenna being developed for radar and communications on the U.S. space shuttle and a $16 million fueling mechanism for the Delta IV booster rocket, used to launch manned space vehicles.
Agents also found documents on the C-17 Globemaster troop transport used by the U.S. Air Force and militaries in Britain, Australia and Canada – but the government later dropped charges related to those finds.
Prosecutors discovered Chung’s activities while investigating Chi Mak, another suspected Chinese spy living and working in Southern California. Mak was convicted in 2007 of conspiracy to export U.S. defense technology to China and sentenced to 24 years in prison.
Chung was the first person to be tried under the economic espionage provision of the Economic Espionage Act, which was passed in 1996 after the U.S. realized China and other countries were targeting private businesses as part of their spy strategies.
Since then, six economic espionage cases have settled before trial. In some of the cases, defendants were sentenced to just a year or two in prison.
Another economic espionage case went to trial in San Jose after Chung’s conviction, but a jury deadlocked on charges against two men accused of stealing computer chip blueprints from their Silicon Valley employer.
Prosecutors have previously tried cases under a different part of the 1996 act that deals with the theft of trade secrets.
GILLIAN FLACCUS 02/ 8/10 04:52 PM ET AP
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