A former U.S. Army helicopter pilot with more than 20 years of military service and additional years as a defense contractor was sentenced Nov. 7 for acting as an agent of China, according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California.
Shapour Moinian, 67, was sentenced to 20 months in federal prison for acting as an agent of a foreign government and for making materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statements or representations on security clearance forms signed as part of his defense contracting position. He was facing a maximum of 10 years in federal prison after pleading guilty June 23.
“This was industrial espionage, bordering on military espionage,” U.S. District Judge Jeffrey T. Miller said at the hearing. “These were extremely serious offenses against the United States.”
Moinian was an AH-64 pilot in the Army Reserve from November 1977 to December 1984 before serving as an active-duty soldier from November 1987 to October 2000, Heather J. Hagan, an Army spokeswoman, said. He completed no combat deployments, Hagan added.
After leaving the Army, Moinian transitioned over to the private sector and worked for a cleared defense contractor, where he handled classified materials that required an active security clearance. Court records did not reveal the name of the company, which was reportedly based in San Diego.
Moinian was recruited by Chinese agents after he was messaged in 2016 by a supposed recruiter at LinkTek Technical Services in Zhejiang, China.
As part of the recruiting process by the Chinese agents, Moinian was in — or led to believe that he was in — a relationship with the recruiter, court documents show.
Amid messages about Moinian divorcing his wife, Moinian and the recruiter stated that they missed each other and discussed plans for him to visit her abroad.
Moinian met with the recruiter and her associates in Hong Kong in March 2017, and again in Shanghai that September during a layover he’d scheduled while traveling to visit his stepdaughter in South Korea.
It was during the September visit that Moinian handed over a flash drive with proprietary information from his defense contractor employer, court documents show.
Included in the leaked information, which was exchanged for money, were sensitive details and materials about multiple types of aircraft designed and manufactured in the U.S., court documents show. In his plea agreement, Moinian acknowledged that he was aware the individuals he met were working for the the Chinese government.
Court documents also show that Moinian’s now-ex-wife claimed he met multiple times with associates in Bali, Taiwan, China and South Korea between 2017 and 2019. After one such occasion, records stated that Moinian and his wife smuggled approximately $22,000 in cash back into the U.S.
Thousands of dollars were also paid to Moinian through his stepdaughter’s South Korean bank account, which he reportedly told her were “consulting” fees.
In the investigation, it was revealed that Moinian had made open source internet searches in 2018 for “sabotage vs spying,” “espionage vs sabotage,” and “selling military information to foreign country is considered as,” an affidavit revealed.
In addition to working as an agent for a foreign government, Moinian was charged with lying on his security clearance forms. In multiple required questionnaires, Moinian was asked, “Do you have, or have you had, close and/or continuing contact with a foreign national within the last seven years with whom you, or your spouse, or cohabitant are bound by affection, influence, common interests, and/or obligation?”
Moinian answered no.
In a separate questionnaire regarding “Foreign Business, Professional Activities, and Foreign Government Contacts,” Moinian was asked whether “any foreign national in the past seven years offered you a job, asked you to work as a consultant, or consider employment with them?”
He again answered no. In his plea agreement, Moinian acknowledged that both responses were false statements.
Moinian will serve his time without the possibility of parole.
Rachel is a Marine Corps veteran and a master's candidate at New York University's Business & Economic Reporting program.