Hanjuan Jin, 41, faces up to 10 years in prison for each of the three theft counts for which she was convicted.
U.S. District Judge Ruben Castillo, when finding her guilty of stealing trade secrets in February, ruled that prosecutors failed to prove Jin’s actions were taken on behalf of a foreign government or entity. But her case highlighted growing U.S. fears about the theft of vital commercial information by China.
Jin was caught on Feb. 28, 2007, during a random security search at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, where she was due to fly on a one-way ticket to China, where she was born.
U.S. Customs officers grew suspicious when they discovered $30,000 in her carry-on luggage after she had declared she had $10,000, prosecutors said. They searched further and found a laptop, a thumb drive, four external hard drives, 29 recordable compact discs, one videotape and several technical documents labeled “Confidential Property.”
Prosecutors alleged that among the secrets in the company documents she had on her were descriptions of a walkie-talkie type feature on Motorola cellphones that they said could have benefited the Chinese military.
Jin had just returned from maternity leave, and her lawyers argued that she merely grabbed the files to refresh her technical knowledge after her long absence.
Castillo allowed Jin to remain free while she awaited sentencing, which originally was to take place April 18. But she had to wear electronic monitoring and was confined to her Aurora home.
During the trial, prosecutor Christopher Stetler told the court that Jin “led a double life” as a seemingly loyal company worker who was actually plotting to steal her employer’s secrets.
Even before returning to Motorola to download files over several days in February 2007, prosecutors say Jin had already begun working for China-based Sun Kaisens, a telecommunications firm that government attorneys said develops products for China’s military.
Jin’s lawyers said prosecutors overvalued the technology in question, saying the walkie-talkie feature is no longer cutting edge and would have been of little military value.
During Jin’s trial, a U.S. intelligence report was released that accused China of systematically stealing American high-tech data to the detriment of the U.S. economy.
The report from the U.S. Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive noted that out of seven cases related to the U.S. Economic Espionage Act in 2010, six were linked to China. It also contended Chinese intelligence or companies bent on pilfering corporate secrets often seek out Chinese citizens or those with family ties to China.
Motorola Inc. has since become Motorola Solutions Inc., and is owned by Internet powerhouse Google.