California Engineer Sentenced to 24 Years in Prison for ITAR Violations

The Los Angeles Times reported on March 25, 2008 that a Chinese-born, naturalized U.S. citizen was sentenced to 24 years and five months in federal prison and fined $50,000 for conspiring to export ITAR-controlled technology to China. Chi Mak, 67, was a former electrical engineer at Power Paragon, Inc. of Anaheim, CA, which handled Navy contracts. Mak was convicted of conspiracy to violate export control laws, attempting to violate export control laws, acting as an unregistered agent of China, and lying to the FBI.

Mak's conviction was the culmination of an 18-month long investigation of Mak's family that ended in October 2005 when he and four other family members were arrested by the FBI and charged with a scheme to illegally send military information to China. Mak's wife, brother, sister-in-law, and nephew have all pleaded guilty and agreed to jail terms or probation.

The government's case centered around three encrypted computer disks that the family had tried to take with them on a flight to China. Two of the disks contained information about an electrically powered propulsion system for warships and a solid-state power switch for ships. The third disk contained a Powerpoint presentation on the future of power electronics. Witnesses during the trial testified that some of these materials were available for purchase on the website of the American Society of Naval Engineers until the government put a stop to it. In addition, Mak's attorney stated that information contained on one of the disks was discussed at an international conference attended by Chinese engineers and the FBI.

Mak's attorney stated that Mak was "sentenced as a trophy rather than a human being" and the case against Mak was unwarranted. Mak will serve his sentence in a low security federal prison.