West Virginia woman pleads guilty to fleeing to Mexico with classified national security document, kidnapped daughter

West Virginia woman pleads guilty to fleeing to Mexico with classified national security document, kidnapped daughter
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A West Virginia woman has pleaded guilty to fleeing to Mexico with classified national security materials and her daughter, over whom she did not have custody, the Justice Department said Monday.

Elizabeth Jo Shirley pleaded guilty to one count of "willful retention of national defense information" that a spokesperson for the agency said in a press release was classified at the "top secret" level.

“When Shirley took classified information from her work with the Intelligence Community and later fled to Mexico, she violated the confidence placed in her by the American people,” Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers said in the announcement.

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“She doubled down on this betrayal when she sought to offer classified information to the Russian government. We are grateful for our law enforcement partners’ timely work to locate and arrest the defendant in Mexico. Given Shirley’s troubling conduct after fleeing the United States, the damage to national security could have been far greater had law enforcement not acted swiftly. Shirley will now be held accountable for betraying the trust of the American people," he added.

The document Shirley admitted to taking to Mexico included classified "intelligence information regarding a foreign government’s military and political issues."

"In July 2019, Shirley took her six-year-old daughter to Mexico with the intent to make contact with representatives of the Government of Russia to request resettlement in a country that would not extradite her to the United States. Shirley took with her to Mexico national defense information, which she had unlawfully retained," the release said.

"While in Mexico, Shirley prepared a written message to Russian Government officials, referencing 'an urgent need' to have 'items shipped from the USA related to [her] life’s work before they are seized and destroyed,'" it continued. Shirley was arrested and her daughter recovered outside of a hotel in Mexico City by U.S. Marshals and Mexican authorities, according to the Justice Department.

She now faces a sentence of up to 10 years for the theft of national security information and up to three years for the kidnapping of her daughter. Shirley also faces a maximum fine of $250,000 for both charges.