KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Chinese business owner and one of his employees have pleaded guilty in Missouri to conspiring to steal trade secrets from a U.S. company, in what one expert called a rare example of foreign business people being successfully prosecuted for corporate spying.
Ji Li Huang, 45, and Xiao Guang Qi, 32, admitted Friday in federal court that they tried to buy Pittsburgh Corning Corp.'s proprietary formula for cellular glass insulation by bribing an employee of the company's Sedalia plant.
U.S. District Judge Brian Wimes sentenced Huang to 18 months in federal prison and fined him $250,000. Qi — Huang's employee at a plastic novelties manufacturer called Ningbo Oriental Crafts Ltd. — was sentenced to time served and fined $20,000, with the understanding that he would leave the U.S. immediately.
Both men paid their fines Friday, The Kansas City Star reported (http://bit.ly/SOrPdc ).
Peter Toren, a former Justice Department prosecutor and expert on economic espionage, told The Star that Huang's sentence showed that the judge took the crime seriously.
"Eighteen months is not insignificant time, particularly for a white-collar crime," Toren said.
Toren said only a small number of foreign businessmen have been successfully prosecuted for trying to steal U.S. trade secrets under the Economic Espionage Act. Most defendants in the 125 or so cases prosecuted since 1996 have been employees of the victim company who planned to use the information to benefit themselves, to start a new company or to sell to another firm, most often in China, Toren said.
Huang, who speaks no English, appeared anguished after a translator whispered the sentence.
"When I go back to China I will tell my family and my friends that you have to understand American laws and obey American laws," Huang told the judge through the translator before being sentenced.