The Justice Department on Monday said a woman from Lansing, Mich., who worked for Coca-Cola was sentenced to 14 years for stealing trade secrets for the benefit of China. File Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI | License Photo
May 10 (UPI) -- A federal judge in Tennessee has sentenced a chemical engineer to 14 years in prison for conspiring to steal secret chemical formulas to create the coating inside of beverage cans and use it to set up a new Beijing-supported company in China.
Xiaorong "Shannon" You was sentenced Monday after a jury convicted her last month following a 13-day trial on charges of conspiracy to commit trade secret theft, conspiracy to commit economic espionage, possession of stolen trade secrets, economic espionage and wire fraud, the Justice Department said.
The sentence also includes three years of supervised release and a fine of $200,000.
"The defendant stole valuable trade secrets and intended to use them to benefit not only a foreign company, but also the government of China," Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen of the Justice Department's National Security Division said in a statement.
You was convicted of stealing secret formals to create bispheno-A-free coating, a chemical used to line beverage cans and food containers to prevent their contents from coming into contact with the metal surface. The coating protects the container from corrosion and its contents from contamination.
According to the indictment, You gained access to the formulas developed at a cost of more than $120 million by Dow Chemical and other companies while being employed by The Coca-Cola Company in Atlanta, Ga., as its principle engineer for global research and then as a packaging application development manager for Eastman Chemical Company in Kingsport, Tenn.
Federal prosecutors said she worked at Coca-Cola from December 2012 to August 2017 before becoming employed the next month by the Eastman Chemical Company. At both companies she was among a handful of employees with access to the trade secrets in question, they said.
The indictment states that until recently beverage cans and containers were coated with the chemical bisphenol-A but due to its possible harmful effects companies began searching for an alternative, and developed bispheno-A-free coating.
Prosecutors said You participated in a conspiracy to steal the bispheno-A-free formula to set up a coating company in China with Weihai Jinhong Group.
The indictment states that the group had received millions of dollars from the Chinese government to support the new company and that You intended for her theft to benefit not only Beijing but also the province of Shandong, the city of Weihai and the Chinese Communist Party.
"Stealing technology isn't just a crime against a company -- It's a crime against American workers whose jobs and livelihoods are impacted," said Bradley Benavides, acting director of the FBI's Counterintelligence Division.
You's case is one of dozens the Justice Department prosecuted under its now-shuttered China Initiative, which the previous Trump administration launched in 2018 to investigate economic espionage for China.
The program resulted in charges against numerous Chinese academics and researchers but attracted criticism of departmental bias, and was shutdown in late February.