Seven years after she was suspended for allegedly disclosing classified material to a suspected Chinese spy, former FBI agent Denise K. Woo was sentenced Monday to probation and a $1,000 fine for improperly sharing confidential information, a misdemeanor.
Woo, 47, of Redondo Beach was transferred from white-collar investigations to a counterintelligence squad pursuing Chinese intelligence agents after her bosses learned in 1999 that she was friends with Jeffrey Wang, a Torrance engineer suspected by the FBI of committing espionage for China. Wang was never charged with a crime.
After her transfer, interviews show, she became convinced that Wang was innocent of wrongdoing and had been falsely accused of espionage by an FBI informant.
Though no charges were filed against Wang, Woo was accused by the FBI of inappropriately disclosing information about the probe to Wang. Suspended and later fired, Woo was then indicted two years ago for allegedly disclosing the existence of a national security wiretap on Wang’s home telephone, revealing to Wang the identity of the FBI’s confidential informant and lying to FBI agents.
Those felony charges, which carried a minimum 10-year prison sentence, were subsequently dismissed when Woo acknowledged in June that she had improperly passed along information about the FBI’s confidential operative to Wang in October 1999.
Though authorities had no comment about the plea agreement, Woo said she had been unjustly accused at great personal expense to her and her family.
“This is kind of a bittersweet ending to a long and continuing tragic injustice,” Woo said minutes after U.S. District Judge Gary Klausner imposed the sentence. “I am relieved that after years of false allegations, my family and I can finally get on with our lives.”
Woo’s attorney, Carolyn J. Kubota, was biting in her criticism of the FBI for firing Woo and the Justice Department for prosecuting her.
“Denise was made a scapegoat for the government’s absolutely bungled investigation of Mr. Wang,” Kubota said outside court, where Woo was surrounded by family and friends.
Wang, who continues to work for a Defense Department contractor, sharply criticized the government’s investigation of him and its prosecution of Woo.
“Denise Woo is the only person who was courageous and principled enough to stand up for me when the government made me a target of a completely false accusation of espionage,” Wang said.
“The government should be ashamed for its reprehensible treatment of me in their unwarranted investigation and for prosecuting and ruining the life of Denise Woo, a person of great integrity, who stood up for an innocent man. Tragically, justice was not served in either of our cases.”
The Chinese counterintelligence squad to which Woo was assigned was later riven by controversy associated with FBI veteran James J. Smith, a longtime supervisor who retired a year after Woo arrived.
Several years later, Smith was charged with gross mishandling of sensitive documents. He later pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of lying about an affair with longtime informant Katrina Leung.