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L.A. Woman Arrested For Smuggling Space Technology To China

Control center at JPL. (Photo by Annie Lesser/LAist)
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A Pomona woman was arrested Tuesday morning by federal agents on charges of conspiring to obtain and illegally export sensitive space communications technology to her native China, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a release.

A 14-count indictment accuses 32-year-old Si Chen, also known as Cathy Chen, of violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), which restricts the export of certain goods and technology to foreign nations. She is also charged with conspiracy, money laundering, making false statements on an immigration application, and using a forged passport.

Chen had allegedly purchased and smuggled components that are commonly found in military communications jammers; the items came with export-control warning stickers that Chen had apparently removed before shipping them to China. She is also accused of using several aliases and a forged passport—the Justice Department claims Chen had used a fake name to rent a Pomona office, from which she took in deliveries of the export-controlled goods, and then sent them out to Hong Kong in parcels bearing her alias, as well as incorrect product descriptions and monetary values. The DOJ says that she'd smuggled more than $100,000 worth of space communications devices, while claiming on her shipping paperwork that the total was $500. These activities are said to have taken place from March 2013 to December 2015.

According to CNBC, the probe began back in 2015, when federal agents intercepted a package that contained communications equipment sent by "Chunping Ji," an alias that Chen was using to rent her Pomona office.

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Chen has pleaded not guilty at an arraignment in a Los Angeles court and was ordered to be held with bail pending a bond hearing that's set for Thursday, reports Reuters.

“Federal export laws are designed to protect American interests by preventing the proliferation of technology that may fall into the wrong hands,” Sandra R. Brown, acting United States Attorney, said in the DOJ statement. “We will vigorously pursue those who traffic items that could harm our national security if they land in the wrong hands.”

If convicted of all 14 charges, Chen would face a statutory maximum penalty of 150 years in prison.

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