Two Chinese nationals – one a fan of “Breaking Bad” – are in federal custody for allegedly trying to export sensors made in New Mexico and used in military guidance systems.
The status of the case that led to their arrest, however, remains sketchy because the case is still sealed. Two related search warrants that were approved by a federal magistrate judge in New Mexico were unsealed late last week at the request of the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Bo Cai, 28, of Nanjing, China, and Wentong Cai, 29, who was a graduate student in Iowa, were arrested on charges of smuggling goods and violating the Arms Export Control Act, which requires an export license for certain items shipped to China, Syria and Sudan, among other countries.
Violations of the act are punishable by a fine of up to $1 million and a prison sentence of up to 20 years.
While the two were in Albuquerque to seal the deal with an undercover agent last December, the agent gave Wentong Cai, a fan of the “Breaking Bad” television series, a sightseeing tour of some locations where the series was shot and snapped cellphone photos of the suspect, according to the affidavit.
Bo Cai was arrested in Los Angeles on Dec. 12, 2013, as he was about to board a plane to return to China, apparently believing that he had an ARS-14 sensor hidden in a computer speaker in his luggage. Wentong Cai was arrested Jan. 22 in Iowa. The documents don’t say whether the two men are related.
According to a criminal complaint, the sensor is used “for weapons or weapon systems; guidance, control and stabilization systems” covered by provisions of the International Traffic in Arms Regulations.
The government requested that proceedings in California for Bo Cai’s arrest be sealed.
One of the search warrants authorized the seizure of information from the Iowa State University computer accounts of Wentong Cai, identified as a graduate research assistant in veterinary microbiology and preventive medicine who wanted to buy up to 20 sensors for research projects.
The undercover agent, working for Homeland Security Investigations, contacted Wentong Cai and presented himself as a distributor of the sensors, according to the search warrant affidavit.
In an October 2013 phone conversation, Wentong Cai said his experiments would be conducted in Iowa and the sensors would not be shipped to China. Later in the conversation, however, Cai said he was “curious” about what would be required to ship the sensors.
The agent told him export would be illegal without a license, and that a license would never be granted for export to China.
In a subsequent conversation, the agent said Cai could smuggle a sensor using the agent’s “proven method” but that it was Wentong Cai’s decision.
Just before Thanksgiving, Wentong Cai said a colleague, Bo Cai, would be visiting in early December and was working on obtaining the money.
A wire transfer of $27,170 from the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China was sent to a U.S. bank account by the Nanjing Shuntai Technology Co. in Jiangsu Province.
Five days later, Wentong and Bo Cai met in Albuquerque with the undercover agent, who emphasized the risk involved in getting a sensor out of the country, but added that he did not get involved in politics.
While again advising of the potential risks, the agent told the men he would wait while they applied for a license, which would probably take two months and likely would not be successful.
Because the sensors have serial numbers, they could be traced to his company, the agent told them.
“If you are caught with it and an inspector is smart enough and they run the numbers and they come back to me, we could all be arrested. I just want you to understand,” the affidavit quotes the agent as saying.
The agent said that of the initial order of three sensors, one was ready and two more would be ready by the following day. He said he could avoid detection by shipping the items to Mexico, and from there to China.
Bo Cai said he wanted to take one sensor himself to show the customer in China and would hide it in an X-box game in his luggage. Ultimately, he decided to place it in a Dell computer speaker.
The undercover agent met them at their hotel, provided a non-functional sensor to Bo Cai, showed the men two more non-functional ARS-14 sensors to be shipped and said he would take them to the airport.
Bo Cai left Albuquerque with a hard-sided red suitcase for Los Angeles and was arrested while trying to board a United Airlines flight to China.
Wentong Cai was booked and released at the Santa Fe County jail, while Bo Cai is still being held there.