LOS ANGELES (CN) – Chinese-born Tah Wei Chao, a naturalized U.S. citizen, admitted he tried to smuggle at least 13 military-grade thermal-imaging cameras to China.
Police arrested Chao and co-conspirator Zhi Yong Guo at Los Angeles International Airport in April after airport authorities found 10 cameras in their luggage, according to the California Attorney General’s Office. Chao bought the cameras in March from FLIR Systems for $53,000. The company said that it told Chao that he could not export the cameras without a Department of Commerce export license.
When authorities seized the cameras, they still bore stickers warning, “This product is an export controlled item. Authorization by the U.S. Government must be obtained prior to any shipment outside of the United States.” Chao and Guo allegedly shipped three other cameras to China in 2007.
The cameras use infrared radiation to make images, and have various military uses, from making night vision goggles to locating unmarked graves. The Department of Commerce restricts the export of the cameras because of their military uses.
U.S. District Judge John Walter will sentence Chao on Oct. 6. He faces up to 60 years in prison.
Guo’s trial, also before Judge Walter, is to begin on Aug. 19. If convicted, he could be sentenced to up to 40 years in prison.