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Chinese-American gets 4 years for stealing Motorola secrets

CHICAGO--A federal judge sentenced a Chinese-born American Wednesday to four years in prison for stealing millions of dollars in trade secrets from Motorola, describing her as a soft-spoken, unassuming woman who carried out a “very purposeful raid” on the company in the dead of night.

In a barely audible voice and heavily accented English, 41-year-old Hanjuan Jin told the judge she was “so sorry for what happened” and pleaded for a second chance. Her lawyers had argued that she took the files merely to refresh her knowledge after a long absence from work and was not spying for China. They appealed for leniency and asked that Jin receive probation, in part because of her poor health.

But U.S. District Judge Ruben Castillo said it was important to send a message that would deter others with access to trade secrets from siphoning off vital information.

“In today's world, the most valuable thing that anyone has is technology ... The most important thing this country can do is protect its trade secrets,” Castillo said.

Jin, who worked as a software engineer for Motorola Inc. for nine years, was stopped during a random security search at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport on Feb. 28, 2007, before she could board a flight to China. Prosecutors say she was carrying US$31,000 and more than 1,000 confidential Motorola documents, many stored on a laptop, four external hard drives, thumb drives and other devices.

Castillo found Jin guilty in February of stealing trade secrets but acquitted her of more serious charges of economic espionage. The judge said the evidence fell short of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that she stole the information to ultimately benefit the Chinese military, as prosecutors alleged.

At Wednesday's sentencing, however, Castillo noted that Jin had also possessed confidential Chinese military documents and was identified as an employee of China-based Sun Kaisens, a telecommunications firm that U.S. government attorneys say develops products for China's military.

A person would “have to have their head in the sand” not to see that her theft could have benefited — albeit perhaps indirectly — China's military and government, Castillo said. He concluded in his sentencing remarks that Jin, who became a naturalized U.S. citizen days before the theft, must have at least been willing to betray her adopted country.

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