A former Army helicopter pilot with more than 20 years of service has pleaded guilty to working as an agent for the Chinese government after he was caught selling information concerning defense and military aviation projects between 2017 and 2020.
Shapour Moinian, 67, pleaded guilty June 23 to one count of acting as an agent on behalf of a foreign government and two counts of false statements for lying on security clearance documents.
He faces a maximum of 10 years in prison for acting as an agent for China and up to five for the false statements, as well as fines of up to $250,000.
Moinian was recruited in 2016 after messaging with a supposed recruiter at LinkTek Technical Services, in Zhejiang, China, court documents revealed. At the time, he was employed in San Diego by a defense contractor that was permitted to work on projects involving classified information.
Court records did not state the company’s name.
Moinian first met with the Chinese recruiter and her associates in Hong Kong in March 2017, and again in September of that year in Shanghai during a layover on his way to visit his stepdaughter and wife’s family in South Korea. It was during this September visit that Moinian handed over a flash drive with proprietary information from the defense contractor where he was employed.
Moinian agreed to provide information and materials related to multiple types of aircraft designed and manufactured in the U.S. in exchange for money, according to the Justice Department. Moinian also acknowledged in his plea agreement that he knew the individuals he met with were working on behalf of the Chinese government.
Thousands of dollars in payments were made to Moinian through his stepdaughter’s South Korean bank account, which were then transferred over to his U.S. accounts for what Moinian told his stepdaughter were “consulting” fees.
During this time, court documents show Moinian may have also had a romantic relationship with the Chinese national — or Moinian was at least led to believe that was the case.
Messages were exchanged between the two stating that they missed each other and had plans to visit and have her “host him” in her city. Shortly following the discussion about visiting each other, Moinian emailed his contact to let her know he was divorcing his wife.
Later, after returning from another trip to Hong Kong in 2018, Moinian made open source internet searches for “sabotage vs spying,” “espionage vs sabotage,” and “selling military information to foreign country is considered as,” an affidavit revealed.
Court documents also show that Moinian’s now ex-wife claimed he had met with associates in Bali, Taiwan, China and South Korea multiple times between 2017 and 2019. On one occasion, Moinian and his wife smuggled approximately $22,000 in cash back into the U.S., records stated.
In multiple questionnaires Moinian was required to fill out for his security clearance, he 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 question, regarding “Foreign Business, Professional Activities, and Foreign Government Contacts,” Moinian was asked if he “has 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.
He later acknowledged in his plea agreement that both responses were false statements.
“Mr. Moinian sold information to the Chinese government, and lied repeatedly to cover up his crimes,” NCIS’s Office of Special Projects Special Agent in Charge Michelle Kramer said in a press release. “Now he is being held to account for his actions. NCIS and our partners remain unwavering in our commitment to protecting the U.S. military and rooting out criminality that threatens the superiority of the U.S. warfighter.”
Moinian served in the Army in the U.S., Germany, and South Korea from approximately 1977 through 2000 before entering the defense contracting world.
He was a AH-64 pilot in the Army Reserve from November 1977 to December 1984 and the regular Army from November 1987 to October 2000, said Heather J. Hagan, an Army spokeswoman. He has no combat deployments, Hagan added.
Moinian’s awards included two Meritorious Service Medals, five Army Commendation Medal, the Army Achievement Medal, the Army Good Conduct Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Humanitarian Service Medal, the Army Service Ribbon, three Overseas Service Ribbon and the Master Army Aviator Badge.
Sentencing for Moinian has been scheduled for Aug. 29, 2022.
Rachel is a Marine Corps veteran and a master's candidate at New York University's Business & Economic Reporting program.