Federal courthouse
Federal courthouse in downtown San Diego. Photo by Chris Stone

A San Diego civilian defense contractor who pleaded guilty to accepting money from Chinese government representatives in exchange for providing aviation-related information from his American defense contractor employers was sentenced Monday to 20 months in prison.

Shapour Moinian, 67, handed over information “related to multiple types of aircraft designed and/or manufactured in the United States,” according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which said Moinian was paid through wire transfers and cash that he smuggled back into the U.S.

Moinian, a former U.S. Army helicopter pilot, worked for various “cleared” defense contractors, including employers in San Diego. The U.S. Attorney’s Office says “cleared” indicates the contractor is allowed to work on projects involving classified information.

Prosecutors allege that while working in San Diego for one of these contractors on aviation projects used by U.S. military and intelligence agencies, Moinian was recruited to provide information related to “multiple types of aircraft,” and did so over the course of several years.

A prosecution sentencing memo states that ultimately, “the United States has no way of knowing what information was passed and how damaging it was to the United States.”

Moinian’s defense attorney, Nathan Fenes, argued in his memorandum that none of the information involved was classified. While most of the information provided is available from open sources on the internet, a small portion included proprietary information from Moinian’s prior employers, the attorney said.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office said Moinian used his stepdaughter’s South Korean bank account to receive payments from Chinese government officials, told the stepdaughter that the funds were for his consulting work and had her transfer the funds to him.

According to the complaint filed against him, he made several internet searches: “sabotage vs. spying,” “espionage vs. sabotage” and “selling military information to foreign country is considered as.”

His plea agreement includes admissions that he lied on national security background forms by indicating he had not had close contacts with foreign nationals or been asked to work for or consider employment by a foreign national within the past seven years.

While prosecutors allege Moinian was aware his contacts in China worked for the government, Moinian’s attorney states that the Chinese employer never specifically stated that they worked for the Chinese government, though “Mr. Moinian was aware that the Chinese government generally controlled the aviation industry in China.”

Fenes, described the crimes as “a very misguided attempt to better support his family,” who were financially dependent on him.

City News Service contributed to this article.