An Illinois man pleaded not guilty Thursday to taking restricted military data from his former job at a New Jersey technology company and presenting it at two conferences in China last fall.
Sixing Liu, wearing a green prison jumpsuit, did not speak during the brief hearing before U.S. District Judge Stanley Chesler; his attorney entered his plea. He is charged with exporting defense-related data without a license and lying to authorities. The exporting charge carries a maximum 20-year prison sentence.
Liu was arrested last month in Deerfield, Ill., where he lives, and initially was granted bail by a federal judge in Chicago. The government opposed his release, however, and a judge in New Jersey ordered him held in that state on $750,000 bail.
Liu's defense attorney, Valerie Wong, said she will seek to have him released.
"He has no criminal history." Wong said after Thursday's hearing. "This is a guy who has been working here for 17 years and has all his assets here. Even Bernie Madoff got bail."
According to Wong and information in court filings, Liu is a legal permanent resident of the U.S. who has lived in this country since 1993 after earning a Ph.D. in electrical engineering in China. He has a wife and three children, ages 7, 11 and 18.
The alleged criminal conduct occurred last year when Liu worked as a senior staff engineer for Space & Navigation, a New Jersey-based division of aerospace and military technology provider L-3 Communications. Space & Navigation develops navigation devices and other components for the Department of Defense.
The government alleges Liu took a personal laptop computer to conferences in Chongqing and Shanghai last fall. While there, he allegedly gave presentations that described the technology he was working on, in violation of U.S. laws that prohibit exporting defense materials without a license or approval from the State Department.
Liu also is charged with lying to Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents about his activities in China upon his return from Shanghai in November. Agents discovered the restricted files on his laptop when he arrived at Newark Liberty International Airport. He also had a VIP badge from the Shanghai conference.
Wong said her client is being targeted because of his Chinese heritage.
"There's a lot of political flavor in this," she said. "I think there's prejudice in this case, and I think if he wasn't Asian he wouldn't get the same treatment."
Through a spokeswoman, the U.S. attorney's office called Wong's claim "absurd" and said "the reasons for Liu's arrest are laid out clearly in the complaint and indictment against him."
In an e-mailed statement, L-3 Communications said it "has supported this investigation from the beginning and will continue to cooperate fully with Federal authorities."