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Alleged Spy Offers Defense

Chinese American engineer says papers found at his home contained no secrets.

January 19, 2006|Greg Krikorian | Times Staff Writer

Documents found at the home of a Chinese American engineer arrested for allegedly steering military secrets to China dealt with power technology and not weaponry or nuclear advances, according to defense papers filed in court Wednesday.

The attorney for Chi Mak, 65, of Downey said that the government misrepresented the documents as part of a pattern of distortion that falsely painted his client as part of a sophisticated Chinese espionage ring.

"Rather than being the long-standing 'spy' for the last 20 years, the characterization which the government sold to the court and the media ... the evidence herein reflects Mr. Chi Mak's long-standing dedication to the field of power electronics technology, and that he is known only to be a hard worker and a 'problem solver,' " attorney Ronald Kaye said in court papers.

The documents were filed in Santa Ana federal court on the eve of Friday's bail hearing for Mak, who was arrested Oct. 28 by the FBI along with his wife, Rebecca Laiwah Chiu; brother, Tai Wang Mak; and sister-in-law, Fuk Heung Li, on suspicion of conspiracy to steal U.S. government documents. In a subsequent indictment, that charge was dropped and Chi Mak, his wife and brother were accused of failing to register as foreign agents.

Fuk was accused in a separate criminal complaint of fraud for allegedly helping foreign nationals gain citizenship through phony marriages.

In an FBI affidavit released shortly after the arrests, authorities disclosed that their investigation began with information that Chi Mak, his wife and brother might be stealing government information from his employer, Power Paragon, a subsidiary of L-3/SPD Technologies/Power Systems Group in Anaheim.

The affidavit identified Mak as the lead engineer on a research project involving a quiet propulsion system for the Navy. Prosecutors later alleged that Mak copied "sensitive" information about that project and others on a disc that his brother intended to take to China.

But in Wednesday's court filings, Mak's attorney denied that the disc contained sensitive military information. And he sought to rebut the other allegations through sworn statements.

In one 12-page declaration, Robert H. Lee, Mak's longtime colleague and a power electronics engineer for 62 years, disputed the government's assertion that Mak improperly had some work documents at home.

"The titles of the documents reveal military projects, but ... all of the documents reflect power engineering technology -- nothing to do with weaponry or nuclear technology, and nothing outside Chi Mak's scope of employment with L-3 Power Paragon," Lee, a consultant to Power Paragon, said in his declaration. "There is not one document in the group which surprised me or caused me concern."

Lee also said that it would be "impossible" for anyone to build a specific piece of technological equipment based on the documents found at Mak's home.

In another declaration, Mak's elder sister, Shouling Paul Barnes, disputed the notion that her brother was a flight risk because the family has a home in Hong Kong that they inherited from their grandfather. Barnes said that the siblings, in a phone conversation wiretapped by the FBI, spoke about what to do with the "broken-down" house because Mak had no interest in it.

Mak's attorney also dismissed the FBI's discovery of a hand-drawn map of the Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory at the engineer's home. Kaye said Mak had the map because he and two other Power Paragon engineers visited the nuclear plant for a research test in April 2002. The map revealed nothing more than the local airport, major highways leading to the facility and local hotels, Kaye added.

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