A 70-year-old retired professor has been charged with plotting to defraud the U.S. Air Force and illegally disclose restricted data about military drones to foreign nationals, including persons in China.

A federal grand jury in Tennessee returned a 18-count indictment Tuesday charging J. Reece Roth, a professor emeritus at the University of Tennessee, as well as Atmospheric Glow Technologies, or AGT, a Knoxville, Tenn.-based technology company.

The indictment accuses Roth and AGT of conspiring between January 2004 to May 2006 to convey information about an Air Force contract to foreign nationals, including a citizen of China who was attending the University of Tennessee as a graduate research assistant.

Prosecutors also say Roth traveled to China in May 2006 with multiple documents related to the contract to build the drones, and he is accused of electronic transmission of a military document containing restricted data to a person in China.

The investigation was conducted by the FBI, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Air Force and the Department of Commerce's Office of Export Enforcement, with the cooperation of the University of Tennessee.

"Whenever restricted U.S. military data is illegally disclosed to foreign nationals, America's security is put at risk. Today's indictment demonstrates just how seriously we view such violations," Assistant Attorney General Patrick Rowan said.

Roth, who lives in Knoxville, faces maximum penalties of 5-20 years in prison and fines of up to $1 million for each count.