(CNN)A former employee of a Chinese airline at two of the main airports serving New York has pleaded guilty to felony charges stemming from the illegal shipment of packages on behalf of China's military, the US Justice Department said Wednesday.
Airline employee worked illegally for the Chinese military at New York airports, US prosecutors say
Ying Lin is a naturalized US citizen originally from China. She took packages from Chinese military officers assigned to China's United Nations mission in New York and put them on flights headed to China without the officers on board -- a violation of US air safety rules -- prosecutors allege.
In return, Lin received benefits including tax-exempt purchases of liquor, cigarettes and electronic devices, perks which US authorities said were "worth tens of thousands of dollars."
Chinese construction workers, who were only allowed to operate at Chinese government facilities under the terms of their visas, also did free work at Lin's two residences in the borough of Queens, according to the Justice Department.
"Covertly doing the Chinese military's bidding on US soil is a crime, and Lin and the Chinese military took advantage of a commercial enterprise to evade legitimate US government oversight," John C. Demers, the US assistant attorney general for national security, said in a statement.
Prosecutors did not name the airline Lin worked for, but said it was an international carrier based in China. Initially, Lin worked for the carrier as a counter agent at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport, then moved to Newark Liberty International Airport where she served as station chief.
Air China, the country's flag carrier with the most international flights, is the only Chinese airline that flies to both airports, according to the JFK and Newark airports' websites.
Lin faces up to 10 years in prison when she is sentenced.
On Thursday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said he was unaware of this case, but added: "When the US authorities bring up such charges, they have to have concrete evidence instead of just trying to 'catch the wind and chasing shadows,' which would bring negative effects on bilateral relations."
CNN has reached out to Air China for comment but did not hear back.