A former scientist born in China has agreed to plead guilty to charges of illegally sending trade secrets worth $300 million to China and Germany.
A federal judge in Indianapolis on Thursday scheduled a plea hearing for Kexue Huang for Oct. 18.
Huang could face up to 15 years in prison if the judge accepts his guilty plea. Huang agreed to plead guilty to one count of theft and attempted theft of trade secrets to benefit a foreign government and instrumentality in a document filed last month in U.S. District Court.
Attorneys for Huang did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment.
In the plea agreement, the 46-year-old Huang, who was born in China, admits that he passed on proprietary information about the development of organic pesticides while he worked as a researcher for Dow AgroSciences in Indiana. According to the plea agreement, Huang passed along trade secrets — including biological materials — to a person at Hunan Normal University in China. That person allegedly later went to the Technical University in Dresden, Germany.
Dow Agrosciences is a subsidiary of Midland, Michigan,-based Dow Chemical Co.
Huang, who was born in China, is a Canadian citizen with permanent U.S. resident status.
Huang was indicted in June 2010 but it was kept secret until August 2010. The indictment charged Huang with 12 counts of theft and attempted theft of trade secrets to benefit a foreign government and instrumentality under the Economic Espionage Act. He also was charged with five counts of foreign transportation of stolen property.
The Economic Espionage Act was passed in 1996 after the U.S. realized China and other countries were targeting private businesses as part of their spy strategies.
Officials say the Department of Justice has only filed economic espionage charges seven times. Two cases in 2009 resulted in trials, with one ending in a conviction and the other with a deadlocked jury.
The other cases were settled before trial.