A federal judge has sentenced a China-born American chemist to 14 years in prison for stealing trade secrets, engaging in economic espionage, and committing fraud.
Besides the jail term, the department said the 60-year-old former Coca-Cola employee was ordered to serve three years of supervised release and pay a $200,000 fine.
“The defendant stole valuable trade secrets and intended to use them to benefit not only a foreign company but also the government of China,” said Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division.
“Today’s sentence reflects the seriousness of this offense, as well as the Department of Justice’s commitment to protect our nation’s security by investigating and prosecuting those who steal U.S. companies’ intellectual property.”
According to court documents and evidence presented at trial, You had worked at two U.S. companies—Coca-Cola in Atlanta, Georgia as a principal engineer, and Eastman Chemical Company in Kingsport, Tennessee as a packaging application development manager. During this time she acquired access to valuable trade secrets related to formulations for bisphenol-A-free (BPA-free) coatings for the inside of beverage cans.
You stole the trade secrets in a bid to set up a new BPA-free coating company in China, said the DOJ.
Until recently, BPA was used to coat the inside of polycarbonate beverage cans and other containers to help minimize flavor loss and prevent the container from corrosion and reactions with what’s inside. However, due to BPA’s potential health risks, companies have been searching for and developing BPA-free alternatives—a costly and time-consuming process.
The stolen trade secrets that belonged to major chemical and coating companies, cost nearly $120 million to develop.
“When companies invest huge amounts of time and money to develop world-class technologies, only to have those technologies stolen, the results are devastating,” said Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.
Bradley S. Benavides, acting assistant director of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division, added that this is not just a crime against the victim company.
Thousand Talents PlanYou and her Chinese corporate partner, Weihai Jinhong Group, received millions of dollars in Chinese government grants to support the new company, including a “Thousand Talents Plan” award, prosecutors said.
You’s application and other evidence presented at trial showed that she intended to benefit not only the Weihai Jinhong Group, but also the central communist regime of China, provincial Shandong authorities, and municipal authorities of Weihai.
You applied to the Chinese-state-sponsored recruitment program, known as Thousand Talents Program, in 2018.
This program, and other similar Chinese plans that target overseas talent, have drawn intense scrutiny from Washington over their role in facilitating the transfer of intellectual property to China and its perceived threats to national security.