A Chinese citizen accused by the U.S. of trying to illegally export tons of high-grade carbon fiber to his home country for military purposes was sentenced to almost five years in prison.
Ming Suan Zhang, 42, was sentenced today in federal court in Brooklyn, New York, for violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act by attempting to export the fiber to China from the U.S. without a license. He pleaded guilty to that count in August.
“This is a violent world we live in,” U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis said during the hearing today. “What you were going to do for money could have had dire consequences for millions of people.”
The U.S. alleged Zhang sought the materials for a Chinese defense manufacturer China North Industries Corp., possibly in connection with the test flight of a new fighter jet. Zhang contended he was a sports-equipment seller and wanted carbon fiber to make better hockey sticks.
The material at issue, M60 carbon fiber manufactured by Tokyo-based Toray Industries Inc., is “an extremely high-grade product” used primarily in aerospace and military applications, Assistant U.S. Attorney Seth D. DuCharme said in a letter filed with the court on Dec. 5.
“While it is theoretically possible to make sporting equipment from this type of fiber, it would be cost prohibitive in most cases,” DuCharme wrote, adding that a kilogram of it would cost more than $2,000. Zhang sought hundreds of kilograms, according to the U.S.
China has increased military spending during the past few years as it adopts a more assertive stance in disputes with neighbors. Last month, the country announced it had established an “air defense identification zone” over a group of islands long administered by Japan.
Zhang came to the attention of U.S. authorities through an investigation into two buyers from Taiwan working on his behalf who sought to locate large quantities of aerospace-grade carbon fiber through the Internet, according to the U.S. The buyers eventually came in contact with an undercover agent posing as a supplier, the government said.
Zhang agreed to meet with the agent to obtain a sample of the material and was subsequently arrested, the government said.
During the hearing today, Zhang, who has been in U.S. custody, told the judge through an interpreter that he wasn’t in good health, that he he had been coughing up blood, had ringing in his ears, and was unable to get proper medical treatment.
“I’d like to request that the prosecutor and the judge demonstrate mercy toward me,” he said, later asking if he could “have a shorter sentence.”
In a letter submitted to the court yesterday, Zhang’s lawyer Mingli Chen said that his client was poorly educated and hadn’t learned much about the applications of carbon fiber for aerospace and defense purposes. Zhang faces massive debts from his struggling business, and has a wife and two children who subsist on sales from a small vendor business and loans from friends, according to the lawyer.
Zhang also has an elderly mother who is almost blind and was seriously injured after being struck by a vehicle last month, Chen said.
Chen had asked that Zhang receive a sentence of the 15 months he has already served since his arrest in September 2012 and deportation back to China.
In addition to serving prison time, Zhang was ordered to forfeit $1,000.
“For financial reasons, the defendant, perhaps not even understanding the potential consequences,” entered into the agreement with the agent, Garaufis said. “It must have been a pretty sweet deal for him.”
The case is U.S. v. Zhang, 1:12-cr-00666, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York (Brooklyn).