CHICAGO (CBS) — First, the man seeking to buy military equipment from Guan Ying Li let slip that he would pass it along to clients that “some countries like the U.S.” refer to as “terrorists.”
He even named them: The Shining Path, a Communist group in Peru, records show.
Then he told Li, a Hong Kong arms dealer also known as “Henry Li,” that the group had attacked Peruvian and U.S. military, was planning to do it again, and that “Peruvian and U.S. helicopters are their biggest threat based on their ability to deploy troops.”
None of that seemed to bother Li, 50, who offered in emails to sell him military equipment — including rockets that could “also target armed helicopter.” He ultimately sold equipment to the buyer, who wrote of plans to pass it along to the designated foreign terrorist organization. Li thought the buyer was a businessman in the Chicago area, and he shipped the goods to Elmhurst.
But that buyer turned out to be an undercover government agent. And Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Joan Lefkow sentenced Li to 10 years in prison after a federal prosecutor told her that Li, “was willing to trade lives for his own profit.”
“He wanted to make money,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Hiller said. “And it was ok to him to make money by killing.”
The feds used Li’s emails and calls with the agent to take him into custody in 2012. He pleaded guilty in April 2014 to attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization. However, the case was not unsealed until March 2015, records show.
Before he was sentenced, Li apologized to the judge and admitted he was “blinded by greed” and “desperate for money.” His attorney, Beau Brindley, argued that Li had been set up by the government and would have never been caught up in criminal activity had it not been for the work of the undercover agent.
“Mr. Li’s an engineer,” Brindley said. “He’s not an arms dealer.”
The feds say Li was a “sophisticated Chinese businessperson with a degree from the University of North Carolina-Charlotte” who agreed to sell five thermal batteries to the undercover agent. The batteries were designed for use in an anti-aircraft missile launcher “capable of making tail-on engagements against jet aircraft or head-on engagements against propeller-driven aircraft.”
He also sold eight paratrooper assault harnesses, eight paratrooper backpacks, shovels, radios and infrared night-vision systems to the undercover agent, records show.
Li was affiliated with Northwest Technology Company in Hong Kong and had worked with Chinese factories that manufactured military equipment, according to a criminal complaint.
Hiller asked the judge to send Li to prison for 15 years. Despite Li’s conduct, the feds say he “provided substantial assistance to the government” through proffers, grand jury testimony and even recorded phone calls. Brindley wrote in a court memo that “Li met with prosecutors from multiple federal districts on multiple occasions.”
But Brindley also wrote that Li “made no efforts to provide anything to terrorist groups with intent to harm the United States outside of this offense generated by the federal government.”
“Yes, he was a businessman in China,” Brindley wrote. “Yes, he was willing to sell products that might be illegal in certain nations. But he was not some kind of active supporter of terrorism.”