CHICAGO (Reuters) - A former engineer at Motorola Inc who was stopped at O‘Hare International Airport carrying more than 1,000 of the company’s proprietary documents was found guilty of stealing trade secrets on Wednesday but cleared of engaging in economic espionage for China.
The defendant, Hanjuan Jin, was charged with illegally downloading Motorola’s business secrets onto her computer and other forms of digital storage before she attempted to board a flight to Beijing on a one-way ticket on February 28, 2007.
Prosecutors alleged Jin, a Chinese-born American, intended to share the information with Sun Kaisens, a Chinese telecommunications company and supplier to the Chinese military that she worked for on the side.
She was caught by federal agents during a random security search at the airport. As they built their case against her, prosecutors alleged Jin was a small part of a much broader Chinese-run industrial spying effort that posed a threat to the country’s economic prosperity.
Jin, 41, who joined Motorola in 1998, pleaded not guilty and waived her right to a jury trial, putting her case in the hands of U.S. District Judge Ruben Castillo, who conducted a so-called bench trial last November
Castillo handed down his split verdict in the case on Wednesday, less than a week before Xi Jinping, China’s president-in-waiting, will visit the United States in a trip that will seek to smooth over some of the friction between the two countries.
Castillo found Jin guilty of three counts of stealing Motorola’s trade secrets but not guilty of three counts of conducting economic espionage against the United States.
Castillo said that while federal prosecutors proved Jin had “criminally betrayed Motorola,” he could not reasonably infer she meant to betray her adopted country.
Sentencing in the case was scheduled for April 18 and Castillo said Jin could remain free on bond until then. She faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison on each of the guilty counts.
U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald called the case “a successful example of how we can work with victim corporations to prosecute these cases while protecting the trade secrets involved.”
Official corporate reaction to the verdict came from Motorola Solutions, one of two companies that Motorola Inc. split into in January 2011.
“Motorola Solutions appreciates the significant efforts the government devoted to prosecuting this case and securing this verdict,” the company said in a statement.
The Jin case was the latest to fuel concerns the Chinese government may be tapping U.S. workers to steal business secrets.
On Wednesday, as Castillo prepared to announce his verdict, U.S. prosecutors in California secured an indictment against a Chinese company for conspiracy to commit economic espionage and other charges in a widening case over the alleged theft of industrial secrets from chemical giant DuPont.
Prosectors say the Pangang Group, which was a state-owned steel manufacturer, worked with a California businessman and others to obtain valuable trade secrets from DuPont.
Last July, prosecutors charged computer programmer Chunlai Yang, a Chinese native with U.S. citizenship, with stealing trade secrets from trading exchange operator CME Group as part of a scheme to set up a Chinese exchange.
Additional reporting by Andrew Stern, Basil Katz, Dan Levine and Sinead Carew; Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Paul Thomasch