A Queens woman who had been charged with tipping off the Chinese owner of a Long Island mansion to a federal probe and helping him flee pleaded guilty Wednesday in Brooklyn federal court to an unrelated charge of acting as a foreign agent without notifying the government in a smuggling scheme.
Ying Lin, 48, a former manager at Air China, faces up to 10 years in prison after admitting she shipped “unaccompanied baggage” from military officials at China’s UN mission on passenger flights from JFK Airport to Beijing, in violation of federal airline regulations and a law requiring disclosure by those who act as foreign agents.
“I acted at the direction of the officials and my employer, Air China,” she told U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly. “I did not notify the attorney general of the United States.”
The government alleged that in return for smuggling the baggage, Lin got free work on her Queens home from a crew of Chinese workers from the mission who were part of a forced-labor scheme, and received tax-free liquor and Apple devices from a program that was restricted to diplomatic workers.
As part of a plea deal, prosecutors are dropping wire fraud charges relating to the tax scheme, and an obstruction-of-justice charge that Lin tipped the owner of a $10 million Old Brookville mansion that figured in a UN bribery investigation about a federal probe, helping him to leave the United States.
“The defendant’s actions as an agent of the Chinese government helped Chinese military officers to evade U.S. law enforcement scrutiny of packages that they sent from New York to Beijing,” said U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue. “This case demonstrates how seriously we address counterintelligence threats.”
Lin was charged in 2016. The government never said what was in the luggage she helped ship, but according to the charges, she told other Air China employees they should assist the military officers, and that because the airline was a People's Republic of China company, their “primary loyalty” should be to the PRC.
Although it was not part of her plea, the government also charged that on one occasion she took a SIM card from the cellphone of an officer who had passed through security and gave it to a PRC official on the other side of the checkpoint to avoid further screening “such as a jetway border search.”
In addition to a potential prison sentence, Lin also agreed to forfeit $145,000. She is a naturalized citizen but was warned it was “possible” the government could seek denaturalization if she was deceptive at the time she became a citizen.
Lin’s sentencing was scheduled for Sept. 10. She and her lawyer declined to comment after the plea.