* Engineer passed space shuttle secrets to China
* First conviction in U.S. economic espionage trial (Adds quotes, details, background throughout)
By Dan Whitcomb
LOS ANGELES, Feb 8 (Reuters) - An ex-Boeing Co (BA.N) engineer, found guilty last year of passing space shuttle secrets to China in America’s first conviction under a 1996 espionage law, was sentenced on Monday to 15 years in prison.
Dongfan “Greg” Chung, a naturalized U.S. citizen, was convicted in July of economic espionage and acting as an agent for the People’s Republic of China.
In sentencing Chung to 188 months behind bars, U.S. District Judge Cormac Carney, who presided over the 10-day trial in Santa Ana, California, said he wanted to send a signal to China to “stop sending your spies here,” according to prosecutors.
Chung, 73, the first person convicted at trial under the Economic Espionage Act, told the judge he was innocent.
“Your honor, I’m not a spy, I’m an ordinary man,” he said. “I was planning to write a book. Those documents were going to be used for my references.
“I love this country, my children and grandchildren live here,” said Chung, who was born in China and lived in Taiwan before moving to the United States in 1962. “I beg your pardon, I want to live with my family peacefully.”
In convicting him in July, the judge found that Chung had acted as an agent of the Chinese government for over 30 years.
Chung was arrested on Sept. 11, 2006, after federal agents searching his home found more than 300,000 pages of sensitive documents relating to the space shuttle, Delta IV rocket, F-15 fighter, B-52 bomber, CH-46/47 Chinook helicopter and other aerospace and military technologies.
They also discovered letters, lists and journals detailing Chung’s communications with officials in China.
Defense lawyers said Chung was a “pack rat” who had hoarded documents at his Orange County, California, home but said he did not pass any classified information to the Chinese government.
“Mr. Chung betrayed his adopted country and endangered our national security,” acting U.S. Attorney George Cardona said in a written statement.
“This case demonstrates our resolve to protect the secrets that help protect the United States as well as the important technological advancements developed by scientists working for companies that provide crucial support to our national security programs,” Cardona said. (Editing by Xavier Briand)