By Angelica Martinez and Debbi Baker
2:38 p.m. September 26, 2008
SAN DIEGO – A woman who tried to smuggle weapons-grade sensors out of the United States into China was sentenced Friday morning to 12 months in prison.
Qing Li, 40, a Chinese national and permanent resident of the United States, pleaded guilty in June to buying and trying to export an accelerometer manufactured by the Endevco Corporation of San Juan Capistrano.
She is scheduled to surrender to authorities by Oct. 29.
Li, who is nine weeks pregnant, told U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Miller that she was sorry for what she had done and begged for a sentence that did not include jail or prison time, so she could spend time with her husband and child.
“I regret it so much, what I have done,” she said. “I wish to turn the clock back and do the right thing.”
Miller said there was evidence showing that Li and her husband had been trying to have a child for some time. He said he didn't consider her pregnancy an attempt to manipulate for a softer sentence, though, he added, “this is indeed a serious offense.”
Miller recommended that Li be transferred to an in-custody program that allows pregnant mothers to stay with their newborns while in custody.
The decision on whether she will be allowed to join such a program is up to prison officials. It is further complicated by the fact that she is not a U.S. citizen and may not be eligible for such a program, officials said.
Li stood silent and appeared to be in shock outside of the courtroom. She and her husband declined to be interviewed.
Li has admitted that she conspired with a person in China she knew only as “Wang” in an attempt to get the sensors out of the United States and into China, federal officials said.
Her private attorney, Stacy Van Malden, said Li is a good person with no previous criminal history. Van Malden said her client is naive, lacks self-confidence and did not conspire for financial gain. The small, credit-card-size devices can be used to measure the shocks from massive nuclear explosions and for developing artillery, missiles and smart bombs.
The U.S government has designated them as defense articles – items specifically designed for military applications – which cannot be exported without written permission from the State Department, officials said.
Federal prosecutor William Cole said the Southern California-based manufacturer tipped off Homeland Security agents – who were operating an undercover business in the region – about Li's activities. Cole said the agent, still undercover, explicitly told Li via e-mail that her exportation of such materials was illegal.
Agents continued to monitor “Wang” and were later led back to Li, who they said had continued e-mailing Wang about the devices, Cole said.
Li, who lived in Stamford, Conn., was taken into custody in October after being indicted by a federal grand jury in San Diego.
Officials with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said she was about to board a flight to China from JFK International Airport in New York.
Officials said her arrest was the culmination of a seven-month undercover investigation by Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Defense Criminal Investigative Service.