LOS ANGELES (CN) – Federal authorities on Tuesday arrested a Southern California woman on charges of conspiring to smuggle sensitive space and military communications technology to China.
Prosecutors say Chinese national Si Chen, 32, illegally exported 340 components to China between March 2013 and December 2015, including military communications jammers and space communications devices worth tens of thousands of dollars. Chen, also known as Cathy Chen, smuggled components worth more than $100,000 but valued the items as $500 on shipping documentation, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
“Federal export laws are designed to protect American interests by preventing the proliferation of technology that may fall into the wrong hands,” Acting U.S. Attorney Sandra Brown said in a statement. “We will vigorously pursue those who traffic items that could harm our national security if they land in the wrong hands.”
Special agents arrested Chen without incident on Tuesday morning at her home in Pomona. She was expected to be arraigned in the afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Judge Patrick Walsh, and faces a statutory maximum penalty of 150 years in federal prison if convicted.
Prosecutors charged Chen in a 14-count indictment under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, which regulates sensitive technology that impacts regional stability or national security and requires licensing from the U.S. Department of Commerce before it’s exported.
An investigation into Chen began in 2015, after border officials referred a suspicious package to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations that contained communications equipment sent under the name Chunping Ji. Prosecutors say Chen used that alias to rent an office in Pomona, about 30 miles east of Los Angeles, and obtain a forged passport. The tech was sent to her office, and from there she would send dozens of items to Hong Kong – misstating the value of the products and descriptions on parcels, prosecutors say.
Archangel Systems Space operated out of Chen’s office in Pomona. The company also maintains an address in El Monte, California, and Shenzhen, China. The indictment says Chen sent the parts to three Hong Kong-based companies: Century Electronic International, Star Aero Investment, and TAA Electronics.
The smuggled items included 66 microwave components, a wave-tube amplifier and 100 low-noise amplifiers that have applications in space communications, prosecutors say. Chen is also suspected to have sent 173 digital-to-analog converters that have applications in military jammers and radar.
In addition to charges under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, prosecutors charged Chen with conspiracy, money laundering, making false statements on an immigration application, and using a forged passport.
Chen also used the aliases Celia Chen and Cecilia Chen, prosecutors say.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office says the investigation into the scheme is ongoing, and the indictment says the scheme includes others “known or unknown.” U.S. Attorney Office spokesman Thom Mrozek said that so far Chen is the only person charged.
Chen’s attorney Darren Cornforth could not immediately be reached for comment.