By Jonathan Stempel
(Reuters) - A Chinese man pleaded guilty to trying to export weapons-grade carbon fiber to China from the United States, after getting caught in a cyber-sting and packing the material in a plain brown box that prosecutors said was labeled "clothing."
Lisong Ma, 34, entered his plea on Thursday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Vera Scanlon in Brooklyn, New York. He faces a maximum of 20 years in prison, and four to five years under recommended federal sentencing guidelines.
The case is part of an effort by federal authorities to stop the export of technology that could be put to military or nuclear use in other countries even if, as Ma's lawyer said in a phone interview, that is not the intent of the shippers.
Ma has been in federal custody since his April 1 arrest in Los Angeles International Airport.
Prosecutors said that in February and March, while still in China, Ma tried to arrange online with undercover agents a purchase of five tons of carbon fiber, ostensibly for such products as bicycle frames, electric blankets and fishing rods.
After traveling to the United States to meet those agents, Ma paid $400 for a spool of Toray-type, T-800 carbon fiber, and tried to ship it in a box whose invoice said it contained clothing, prosecutors said.
Agents intercepted the box and arrested Ma before he could board a flight to Shanghai, prosecutors said.
"Today's conviction should leave no doubt that the United States will use every available technique, including covert cyber operations, to maintain the superiority of our nation's armed forces," U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch said in a statement.
Ming Hai, a lawyer for Ma, said his client had not been acting on behalf of the Chinese government or military.
"He started up his own business, and was too eager to make some money, and he did something stupid," Hai said. "Unfortunately, he contacted an undercover agent."
Ma pleaded guilty to violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, which bars the unlicensed export of the T-800 fiber to China.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York)