It's the very model of affluent suburbia, hardly a place where anyone thinks the man next door would be stopped by customs agents on his way to
But appearances can be deceiving.
The U.S. government controls the export of such "dual-use" devices, but Huang, a Chinese national, had two in his luggage on
Ten months later, a
Huang, 51, agreed to a plea deal and remains in custody pending sentencing in October.
In Clarks Glen, the development where he lived for at least eight years, former neighbors were astonished to hear the news. They saw Huang, an electrical engineer, as anything but the cloak-and-dagger type.
Instead, they said, he was a taciturn man who mowed his lawn once a week, whether it was needed or not, and rarely socialized.
"We lived next to him for at least a year, and he never said a word other than 'hello,' " said
Huang's former wife and his son lived with him in the neighborhood for several years, Potluri said, adding that they also seemed to have few visitors and little contact with neighbors.
The agencies that tracked Huang over the years -- officials from the
The two charges against Huang are impersonating a federal employee and obstructing justice, but intelligence analysts said the case has all the hallmarks of a long-term covert operation.
Huang has lived in the U.S. since the 1990s. He earned a doctorate in electrical engineering from the
His area of expertise, optoelectronics, deals with the design and fabrication of electronic devices that detect and control light. From 1995 to 2001, he used it in his work as a contract scientist at Goddard Space Flight Center, a division of
He left that position in 2001 to start
The details of the case are, at times, as complex as Huang's line of work.
In 2003 and 2004, according to the plea agreement, he contacted three American companies to try to acquire semiconductor products known as cadmium zinc telluride wafers and mercury cadmium telluride wafers.
The wafers have civilian uses but can also be used to enhance night-vision technologies and create high-end missile detectors -- which is why the federal government requires special permission to export them to certain nations, including
While trying to acquire the wafers, Huang tried to evade suspicion by presenting himself to potential vendors -- falsely -- as a scientist who still worked for
The documents indicate that Huang, a naturalized U.S. citizen, went to great lengths to perpetrate the fiction, using a Goddard email address, business card and fax numbers. The first four of the five initial charges against Huang are related to the deceit.
He failed to acquire those wafers, but he did gain possession of several similarly controlled light-emitting diodes. When customs officials stopped him at O'Hare, according to the plea agreement, he had two stored in a hidden gel-pack, and he lied repeatedly about what they were and how he got them.
Huang later contacted his then-wife, he admits, and directed her to destroy a number of documents and computer files related to Allray. According to the plea agreement, she complied.
"The balance of probabilities is that his customer was either the Chinese military or some major Chinese defense contractor," he wrote in an email to The
Huang admits in his plea agreement that he "absconded to
Murphy said she didn't know why Huang was in
Federal prosecutors agreed to drop three of the charges against Huang in exchange for his guilty plea to two. His sentencing hearing is scheduled for
If the plea meant a triumph for federal authorities, the reaction in Clarks Glen bordered on the contemplative, at least once the shock wore off.
Huang's onetime neighbor, Potluri, found irony in the situation. When she and her family were first thinking of buying in the neighborhood, she recalled, the seller used the Huangs as a selling point.
"I remember it so well," she recalled. "He told us, 'This is an excellent place to live. You'll have great neighbors on both sides.' Isn't that strange?"
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