A former federal employee at the State Department pleaded guilty this week to a charge of conspiracy to defraud the United States by hiding her extensive contacts with and receiving gifts from Chinese agents.
According to an announcement from the Justice Department, Candace Marie Claiborne worked as an Office Management Specialist for the Department of State.
Plea documents state that she maintained a TOP SECRET security clearance and also was required to report any contacts with persons suspected of affiliation with a foreign intelligence agency as well as any gifts she received from foreign sources over a certain amount. However, Claiborne failed to report repeated contacts with two agents of the People’s Republic of China Intelligence Service, even though these agents provided tens of thousands of dollars in gifts and benefits to Claiborne and her family over five years.
The gifts and benefits included cash wired to Claiborne’s USAA account, Chinese New Year’s gifts, international travel and vacations, tuition at a Chinese fashion school, a fully furnished apartment, a monthly stipend and numerous cash payments. Some of these gifts and benefits were provided directly to Claiborne, while others were provided to a close family member of Claiborne’s.
The plea documents state that she provided agents with copies of internal State Department documents on topics ranging from U.S. economic strategies to visits by dignitaries between the U.S. and China. She noted in her journal she could “Generate 20k in 1 year” working with one of the PRC agents.
The plea documents also state that Claiborne willfully misled State Department background investigators and FBI investigators about her contacts with those agents. After the State Department and FBI investigators contacted her, Claiborne also instructed her co-conspirators to delete evidence connecting her to the PRC agents. She confided to a co-conspirator that the PRC agents were “spies.”
Claiborne was arrested on March 28, 2017, following a law enforcement investigation. The statutory maximum penalty for a person convicted of conspiracy to defraud the United States is five years in prison.
“Candace Marie Claiborne traded her integrity and non-public information of the United States government in exchange for cash and other gifts from foreign agents she knew worked for the Chinese intelligence service,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers. “She withheld information and lied repeatedly about these contacts. Violations of the public’s trust are an affront to our citizens and to all those who honor their oaths. With this guilty plea we are one step closer to imposing justice for these dishonorable criminal acts.”