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Judges Refuse to Free Brothers in Chinese Spy Case

Two men accused of failing to register as foreign agents are flight risks, jurists rule.

November 29, 2005|Claire Luna and Greg Krikorian | Times Staff Writers

Two brothers indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of failing to register as agents of the Chinese government were ordered to remain in custody Monday after judges in Santa Ana ruled that the men might flee the country if released on bond.

Tai Wang Mak, a 56-year-old television director from Alhambra, was denied bail by a federal magistrate after FBI agents testified that Mak had allegedly hidden sensitive U.S. military technology on an encrypted CD that he planned to take to China.

The ruling came only hours after a federal judge revoked bail for Mak's brother, Chi Mak, 65, an engineer from Downey who allegedly took the sensitive information from an Anaheim military contractor where he worked and gave it to his brother for transmission to the Chinese government.

The military technology included information on battleship survivability, a U.S. government nuclear reactor used for naval propulsion research, and a quiet electric-drive propulsion system for Navy submarines.

The brothers were arrested with their wives on Oct. 28 by the FBI on suspicion of possessing stolen U.S. government information. In a subsequent indictment, authorities dropped those charges but accused the brothers and Chi Mak's wife, Laiwah Chiu, of failing to register as foreign agents.

Tai Mak's wife, Fuk Heung Li, was named in a separate criminal complaint for allegedly engaging in a fraud scheme to help foreign nationals gain citizenship through phony marriages. Both women remain free on bond.

The arrest of the brothers and their wives came after a federal judge issued a sealed warrant in which the FBI alleged that Tai Mak and his wife were about to leave the U.S. with the sensitive military technology on a midnight flight from LAX to Hong Kong, continuing on to China. In their luggage, federal agents allegedly recovered the encrypted disc containing the information and other research conducted for the U.S. Navy.

Authorities said the encrypted files were hidden beneath music files.

Chi Mak, a senior engineer at Power Paragon, an Anaheim military firm with more than 200 Navy contracts, told agents of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service after his arrest that he had been providing China with information on U.S. Navy projects since 1983, according to authorities. Chi Mak also purportedly said he had provided his brother with documents designated "NOFORN," meaning they could not be shared with foreign nationals.

Authorities say Chi Mak conceded passing information to China on numerous other military programs, including an electromagnetic launching system for aircraft carriers and technologies allowing battleships to continue operating after attacks.

The information, according to authorities, was passed on to a Chinese government contact, Pu Pei-Liang, who is a research fellow with the Chinese Center for Asia Pacific. The center at Zhongshan University in Guangzhou conducts research for China's military and has been seeking U.S. Navy technologies, authorities say.

Chi Mak was granted $300,000 bond on Nov. 18 when the charges against him were reduced to a single count of failing to register as a foreign agent, but remained in custody.

Prosecutors argued Monday that Chi Mak's bond should be revoked, alleging that he would be a flight risk if released because he had been making plans for months to leave the U.S. and return to China.

"Given the fact that Chi Mak was planning to retire in four months and move back to the PRC, there is no reason for him to remain in the U.S. to face criminal charges that carry a 10-year maximum sentence," the prosecutors said in court papers.

Assistant U.S. Atty. Gregory W. Staples noted that Chi Mak had also been fired by Power Paragon for allegedly passing sensitive information to China. At the end of the hearing, U.S. District Judge Cormac Carney agreed that Mak posed a flight risk and should remain in custody.

Carney was not swayed, saying he did not find it surprising that Chi Mak had character references

The judge discounted the contentions of Chi Mak's lawyer that the information on the disc was widely known in the academic community and that the case was not serious. Encrypting information, Carney said, gives the appearance that there was something to hide.

Carney also pointed out that China had no extradition treaty with the United States.

If Chi Mak can get to China, the judge said, "I ain't going to get him back."

In another courtroom in Santa Ana, prosecutors called two FBI agents to the witness stand to bolster their contention that Tai Mak, who has also remained in custody since his arrest, should be denied bail.

One of the agents, James E. Gaylord, testified that a nightstand in Tai Mak's home in Alhambra contained pictures of Mak wearing a Chinese military uniform, as well as a disc of encryption software.

Gaylord said he believed that Tai Mak was in the country to provide intelligence to the People's Republic of China.

The other agent, Daniel Bolick, testified that Tai Mak told him after his arrest at LAX that the hidden CD contained only songs he wanted to take to China.

When Bolick asked Tai Mak which relatives he was visiting in China, the agent testified, "it was very clear he was just plain not being truthful. He refused to say specifically where he was going."

U.S. Magistrate Marc L. Goldman said he denied bail because of Tai Mak's employment connections to the Chinese government and "the surreptitious aspects" of the information on the CD and his interview with Bolick.

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