Chinese ‘Breaking Bad’ fans tried to smuggle U.S. military sensors

Posted at: 06/12/2014 10:41 PM
By: Ryan Luby, KOB Eyewitness News 4

Two Chinese nationals face federal charges for trying to buy military sensors from an Albuquerque company and take them to China, according to a search warrant obtained exclusively by the investigative team at KOB Eyewitness News 4.

Agents with Homeland Security Investigations worked undercover to catch Wentong and Bo Cai in mid-December.  The agency’s investigation lasted for weeks after the company contacted them.

KOB obtained a copy of the warrant then, but agreed to withhold it to not interfere with the case.

Both Wentong and Bo Cai thought they were meeting with a man who agreed to sell them the small sensors, which are made in Albuquerque and typically used for military communications and lasers in ground and aerial military vehicles.  Instead, unbeknownst to them, they met with an undercover agent.

Federal arms trafficking laws ban the regular export of many U.S. technologies to China, along with countries like North Korea and Syria, if they’re used in military applications.  People can only take the technologies, including the sensors, to those countries if they receive a license from the federal government.

According to the search warrant, Wentong Cai first said in numerous e-mails to the undercover agent that he wanted to buy 20 of the sensors, which cost about $11,000 each, and use them for research at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa.  That’s where he was a graduate research student in Veterinary Microbiology and Preventative Medicine.  Later, when the agent met with Wentong and Bo Cai in-person in Albuquerque, the men claimed they actually wanted to smuggle the sensors to a research facility near Shanghai.

The search warrant requested a judge to search to allow investigators to read through Wentong Cai’s Iowa State e-mail account.

The men are in their late twenties.  It’s unclear how they’re related, but they’re apparently fans of ‘Breaking Bad,’ the popular AMC television show that was shot in Albuquerque.  Wentong Cai took photos of himself in front of popular landmarks from the show, including Walter White’s home in the Northeast Heights, and posted the images on his Facebook page.

Throughout the undercover agent’s investigation, he warned Wentong and Bo Cai about the risks of smuggling the sensors.  Yet, the men – who had a Chinese technology company send $27,000 to the undercover agent through a wire transfer – didn’t seem to mind.

At one point the agent said, “You don’t care about the license?”  Bo Cai replied, “Yeah yeah yeah,” and also had said, “Not my problem, what I want is just get sensor I don’t care how to get it.”

The undercover agent proved the men intended to take the sensors to China by giving them a nonfunctional one and concealing it inside a computer speaker.  The men accepted it and boarded a plane from Albuquerque to Los Angeles.  While attempting to board another plane to China, U.S. Customs and Border Protection located the sensor and confiscated it.

According to multiple sources, Wentong Cai was arrested near Des Moines, Iowa in early January.  Bo Cai was arrested elsewhere a few weeks later.  Bo Cai is still housed at the Santa Fe County Adult Detention Facility.  Wentong Cai was transferred elsewhere.  Both faces charges for allegedly violating the Arms Export Control Act.

KOB Eyewitness News 4 relayed the search warrant to WHO-TV in Des Moines, KOB’s NBC affiliate sister station, which also agreed to withhold it until prosecutors were about to unseal the case.  According to that station, an Iowa State University spokeswoman said she was unaware of the accusations.  She declined to comment further.

Stay with KOB Eyewitness News 4 for more developments on this story.