A federal judge on Monday sentenced Shapour Moinian, a retired U.S. Army helicopter pilot, to 20 months in jail for illegally selling aviation-related information to China. Pool Photo by Win McNamee/UPI | License Photo
Nov. 7 (UPI) -- A federal judge on Monday sentenced a retired U.S. Army helicopter pilot to nearly two years' imprisonment after he pleaded guilty to spying for China.
U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Miller handed Shapour Moinian, 67, of San Diego, Calif., the 20-month sentence on charges of acting as an agent of the Asian nation and accepting tens of thousands of dollars from representatives of the country in exchange for aviation-related information.
"This was industrial espionage, bordering on military espionage," Miller told Moinian during sentencing, according to a statement from the Justice Department. "These were extremely serious offenses against the United States."
Moinian served the U.S. Army in the United States, Germany and South Korea from 1977 to 2000, after which he worked for various defense contractors used by U.S. intelligence agencies and the military, which were permitted to projects involving classified information.
In late June, Moinian admitted in his plea agreement that while working for the U.S. defense contractors he provided Chinese nationals with proprietary aviation information.
"This crime was committed by a former member of the U.S. military who chose cash over his company and country," U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman said.
According to the plea agreement, Moinian was contacted in 2017 by a recruiter on a job-services platform offering him the opportunity to consult for Beijing's aviation industry, and in March he flew to Hong Kong to meet the individual.
The court document states that Moinian knew he was meeting with individuals employed or under the direction of the Chinese government and agreed to provide them with information concerning aircraft that were designed or manufactured in the United States in exchange for cash.
He admitted in the court document that he accepted up to $10,000 during that meeting.
On returning to the United States, he gathered the requested material on a flash drive and flew to Asia that September. During a stopover in Shanghai, he met the same Chinese officials to whom he gave the proprietary information stored on the storage device, prosecutors said.
After this meeting, Moinian arranged for his payments to go through the South Korean bank account of his stepdaughter whom Moinian told it was payment for consulting work and that she was to transfer it to him via multiple transactions.
Prosecutors said that he was provided with a phone and other equipment to transfer the requested materials and information to Beijing.
During 2018 while employed by another defense contractor, he met the same Chinese nationals in Bali, who transferred thousands of dollars to his stepdaughter's account, prosecutors said.
In August of the next year, Moinian and his wife traveled to Hong Kong and were paid some $22,000 in cash from his Chinese contacts. The pair then smuggled the money back to the United States.
Moinian was arrested Oct. 1, 2021, while employed for another defense contractor with plans to relocate to South Korea where he was to work on military aircraft produced for Seoul, prosecutors said when he was charged days later.
"Mr. Moinian deserves to be held fully accountable for betraying his oath to the United States, selling sensitive information to the Chinese government and lying repeatedly to cover up his crimes," Special Agent in Charge Brice Miller, of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service Office of Special Projects, said.
"This sentencing should make it clear: NCIS and our partners are fully committed to protecting the U.S. military and rooting out criminality that threatens the superiority of the U.S. warfighter."