By Associated Press - Wednesday, April 24, 2019

WASHINGTON (AP) - A former State Department employee who held a top-secret clearance pleaded guilty Wednesday to misleading investigators about her contacts with Chinese intelligence agents.

Court documents accuse Candace Marie Claiborne, 63, of knowingly supplying information to Chinese intelligence agents in exchange for “tens of thousands of dollars in gifts and benefits” over a five-year period. According to the Justice Department , she received “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.”

In exchange, Claiborne “provided copies of internal documents from the State Department on topics ranging from U.S. economic strategies to visits by dignitaries between the two countries,” the government said.

She pleaded guilty in federal court in Washington to a charge of conspiracy to defraud the United States” by lying to investigators. The charge carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

Claiborne, 63, was arrested last year after working for the State Department for more than 15 years. Claiborne started as an office management specialist in 1999, and served in multiple overseas postings including Baghdad, Beijing and Khartoum, Sudan.

“Candace Claiborne broke the public trust when she accepted gifts and money from foreign officials, and then lied about it to State Department background investigators,” U.S. Attorney Jessie Liu said in a statement. “The United States will continue to seek to hold accountable those who abuse their positions of trust.”

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