Former State Department worker, 63, pleads guilty in China spy case

A former State Department employee admitted Wednesday to misleading investigators about accepting thousands of dollars in gifts and benefits from Chinese intelligence agents in exchange for information.

Candace Marie Claiborne, 63, pleaded guilty in federal court in Washington to a charge of conspiracy to defraud the United States. The charge carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

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“Candace Marie Claiborne traded her integrity and non-public information of the United States government in exchange for cash and other gifts from foreign agents she knew worked for the Chinese intelligence service,” Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers said in a statement. “She withheld information and lied repeatedly about these contacts."

Claiborne, who held a top-secret security clearance, was arrested in March 2017. She started working at the State Department as an office management specialist in 1999 and served in multiple overseas postings including Baghdad and Khartoum, Sudan, as well as Beijing and Shanghai.

Prosecutors said that over a five-year period, Claiborne received "Chinese New Year's gifts, international travel and vacations, tuition at a Chinese fashion school, a fully furnished apartment, a monthly stipend and numerous cash payments."

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In exchange, the government said, Claiborne “provided copies of internal documents from the State Department on topics ranging from U.S. economic strategies to visits by dignitaries between the two countries."

"Candace Claiborne broke the public trust when she accepted gifts and money from foreign officials, and then lied about it to State Department background investigators," U.S. Attorney Jessie Liu said in a statement. "The United States will continue to seek to hold accountable those who abuse their positions of trust."

Claiborne is scheduled to be sentenced July 9.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.