(REUTERS) - A Chinese man pleaded guilty to trying to export weapons-grade carbon fibre to China from the United States (US) , after getting caught in a cyber-sting and packing the material in a plain brown box that prosecutors said was labelled "clothing".
Lisong Ma, 34, entered his plea on Thursday before US Magistrate Judge Vera Scanlon in Brooklyn, New York. He faces a maximum of 20 years in prison, and four to five years under recommended federal sentencing guidelines.
The case is part of an effort by federal authorities to stop the export of technology that could be put to military or nuclear use in other countries even if, as Ma's lawyer said in a phone interview, that is not the intent of the shippers.
Ma has been in federal custody since his April 1 arrest in Los Angeles International Airport.
Prosecutors said that in February and March, while still in China, Ma tried to arrange online with undercover agents a purchase of five tons of carbon fibre, ostensibly for such products as bicycle frames, electric blankets and fishing rods.
After travelling to the US to meet those agents, Ma paid US$400 (S$510) for a spool of Toray-type, T-800 carbon fibre, and tried to ship it in a box whose invoice said it contained clothing, prosecutors said.
Agents intercepted the box and arrested Ma before he could board a flight to Shanghai, prosecutors said.
"Today's conviction should leave no doubt that the US will use every available technique, including covert cyber operations, to maintain the superiority of our nation's armed forces," US Attorney Loretta Lynch said in a statement.
Mr Ming Hai, a lawyer for Ma, said his client had not been acting on behalf of the Chinese government or military.
"He started up his own business, and was too eager to make some money, and he did something stupid," Mr Hai said. "Unfortunately, he contacted an undercover agent."
Ma pleaded guilty to violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, which bars the unlicenced export of the T-800 fibre to China.