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San Diego defense contractor pleads guilty to providing info to China

The Edward J. Schwartz U.S. Courthouse in San Diego on Nov. 18, 2016.
Courtesy of U.S. District Court Southern District of California
The Edward J. Schwartz U.S. Courthouse in San Diego, where a hearing on whether to delay the Trump University trial is scheduled for Nov. 18, 2016.

A civilian defense contractor living in San Diego pleaded guilty to federal charges Thursday for accepting money from Chinese government representatives in exchange for providing aviation-related information from his U.S. defense contractor employers.

Shapour Moinian, 67, took "thousands of dollars" and in turn handed over information "related to multiple types of aircraft designed and/or manufactured in the United States," according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Moinian, a former U.S. Army helicopter pilot, worked for various "cleared" defense contractors, including employers in San Diego. The U.S. Attorney's Office says "cleared" indicates the contractor is allowed to work on projects involving classified information.

According to the plea agreement, Moinian was first approached by a Chinese contact: a woman who claimed to work for a technical recruiting company and offered Moinian the chance to consult for the aviation industry in China.

Prosecutors allege Moinian was aware that the people he was providing information to were employed or directed by the Chinese government.

The U.S. Attorney's Office said he used his stepdaughter's South Korean bank account to receive payments from Chinese government officials. Prosecutors say he told the stepdaughter that the funds were for his consulting work and instructed her to transfer the funds to him.

According to the complaint filed against him, he made several internet searches in 2018 regarding "sabotage vs. spying," "espionage vs. sabotage" and "selling military information to foreign country is considered as."

His plea agreement includes admissions that he lied on national security background forms by indicating he had not had close contacts with foreign nationals or been asked to work for or consider employment by a foreign national within the past seven years.

He was arrested last year, during which time he was set to work on a military aircraft being produced for South Korea, prosecutors said.

"This defendant took the aviation materials of his American employers and sold them to China," said U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman. "This conduct was an outrageous breach of trust by a former member of the U.S. military."

FBI Special Agent in Charge Stacey Moy, said "When someone holds a security clearance, they know what information should be reported to security officials. In this case, the defendant betrayed his sacred oath, knew his actions were wrong, and subsequently lied about it."

Moinian is set for sentencing on Aug. 29.