Chinese-Born Engineer Convicted of Conspiracy Gets 24 1/2 Years in Prison

A Chinese-born engineer convicted of conspiracy to export U.S. defense technology to China was sentenced Monday to 24 1/2 years in federal prison by a judge who said the defendant betrayed his adopted country.

Chi Mak, 67, a naturalized U.S. citizen who worked on naval propulsion systems, was also convicted of acting as an unregistered foreign agent, attempting to violate export control laws and making false statements to the FBI.

Federal prosecutors asked for 30 years, while Mak's defense team proposed 10 years.

Mak asked U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney for leniency before sentencing. Four of Mak's relatives, including his wife, pleaded guilty last year to related offenses in exchange for leniency.

"I don't know so much about the law, but I feel I never intend to violate any law at all. I never intend to hurt my country. I love this country. I don't believe I hurt this country," Mak told the judge. "The truth is not like the one the prosecutor says. I still hope for justice."

The judge said Mak lied on immigration and government security clearance forms and perjured himself on the witness stand.

"I do believe a high-end sentence is appropriate here. Mr. Mak sadly, I believe, betrayed the United States. ... I really don't know how much damage he's done to us," Carney said.

"He's a very humble man, a very warm man and he wants to be helpful," the judge said, referencing letters of support from Mak's friends and former colleagues and friends. "But it's those traits and that persona that allowed him to pass information to the People's Republic of China."

Mak, who worked for Anaheim-based naval defense contractor Power Paragon, was arrested in late 2005 after FBI agents stopped his brother and sister-in-law as they boarded a flight to Hong Kong and Guangzhou, China.

Investigators said they found three encrypted CDs in the couple's luggage that contained documents on a submarine propulsion system, a solid-state power switch for ships and a PowerPoint presentation on the future of power electronics.

During a monthlong trial last year, Mak's attorneys argued that the information he gathered was not classified and was often made public at industry conferences that were attended by engineers from all over the world, including China. They also argued that the information that Mak was accused of trying to pass to China was outdated and so far from being a functional technology that China could have done little with it.

Mak's attorney, Ronald Kaye, said he would file an appeal within 10 days. He accused prosecutors of being overly harsh with his client to make a point to the international espionage community and to China.

"We believe that history will prove the facts of this case differently," Kaye said outside court. "They essentially have sentenced him as if he's a trophy rather than a human being."

Mak, who has been in custody since his arrest, was allowed to hug his attorneys before being returned to the Metropolitan Detention Center in Los Angeles. Kaye asked that he be placed in a minimum security prison in Lompoc, Calif., and the court agreed to recommend that to federal prison officials.

Mak's wife, Rebecca Laiwah Chiu, pleaded guilty last year on the eve of her trial to one count of acting as a foreign agent without registering with the U.S. government. She is serving three years in federal prison and will be deported upon release.

His brother, Tai Mak, pleaded guilty last year to conspiring to violate export control laws in exchange for a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. Tai Mak's wife, Fuk Li, pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting the violation of export control laws and received three years of probation.

Yui "Billy" Mak, the son of Tai Mak and Fuk Li, pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting the violation of export control laws and was sentenced to time already served. The three will also be deported.