A former General Motors Co (GM.N) engineer was sentenced to a year and a day in prison and her husband was sentenced to three years for conspiring to steal trade secrets for use in China, federal prosecutors said.
Former engineer Shanshan Du, 54, and her husband Yu Qin, 52, each received sentences well below the roughly eight to 10 years that the government had sought. Both were sentenced on Wednesday by U.S. District Judge Marianne Battani in Detroit.
Both defendants are U.S. citizens, and their case is part of a crackdown by the U.S. Department of Justice on trade secret theft, whether involving China or other countries.
Last November, a federal jury convicted Du and Qin on two counts each of unauthorized possession of trade secrets and one count of conspiracy to possess the secrets without permission.
Qin was also convicted on three counts of wire fraud and one count of obstruction of justice.
The defendants had been accused of taking confidential GM information from the Detroit-based automaker related to hybrid vehicles, and trying to pass it to competitors, including China's Chery Automobile Co, through their firm Millennium Technology International.
Investigators accused Du of copying more than 16,000 GM files soon after the automaker in January 2005 gave her a severance offer. They said Qin later claimed, while pitching his services, to have invented some of the stolen GM technology.
"These defendants stole trade secrets, which General Motors spent many years and millions of dollars to develop, to give an unfair advantage to a foreign competitor," U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade in Detroit said in a statement. "Stealing trade secrets harms Michigan businesses and costs jobs."
Prosecutors said GM has estimated that the value of the stolen documents exceeded $40 million. The defendants had argued that the documents in question were not trade secrets.
"I'm pleased that the judge went below the sentencing guidelines, and took into consideration Mr. Qin's contributions to the engineering field, his respect in that field, and his remorse," Qin's lawyer Frank Eaman said in an interview. He nonetheless said he was planning to appeal the conviction.
A lawyer for Du did not immediately respond to a request for a comment. McQuade's office was not immediately available for comment.
The case is U.S. v. Qin et al, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Michigan, No. 10-cr-02454.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by David Gregorio)