By Jonathan Stempel
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A Chinese man accused of trying to export high-grade carbon fiber to his home country from the United States for use in military aircraft was sentenced on Tuesday to nearly five years in prison, federal prosecutors in New York said.
Ming Suan Zhang, 42, pleaded guilty on August 19 to one count of violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act for trying to export aerospace-grade carbon fiber, a controlled commodity, without a license.
U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis in Brooklyn sentenced Zhang to 57 months in prison, the top end of the 46- to 57-month range recommended under federal guidelines.
Zhang has been in federal custody since his arrest in September 2012 and could face deportation after his release.
"The defendant brazenly disregarded U.S. law in an attempt to procure a highly sought after commodity and provide it to a foreign power," U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch in Brooklyn said in a statement.
The carbon fiber composite that Zhang sought is regulated by the U.S. Department of Commerce, and can be used to make ballistic missiles and nuclear centrifuges.
It is also used in military and commercial aircraft, including the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, to make planes stronger, lighter and more resistant to stress.
Prosecutors said they began probing Zhang after a man and woman in Taiwan acting on his behalf in April 2012 sought to buy several tons of carbon fiber via the Internet.
They said Zhang later told an undercover agent that he needed the material fast because a customer, a Chinese military executive, was involved in testing a new "fighter aircraft."
The Zhang was arrested after traveling to the United States to meet the agent.
Zhang had sought to be sentenced to time served. His lawyer, Mingli Chen, said Zhang manufactured sports equipment and wanted carbon fiber for some of his products, such as hockey sticks.
"The sentencing was heavy," Chen said in an interview. "My client was trying to make up a loss from a failing business, and I don't believe he was trying to send carbon fiber for any use in the Chinese aerospace or military industry."
The case is U.S. v. Zhang, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York, No. 12-cr-00666.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; editing by Andrew Hay)