ST. LOUIS (AP) — A Chinese national who pleaded guilty earlier this year to stealing a trade secret from agribusiness giant Monsanto while he worked in Missouri has been sentenced to more than two years in prison.
Haitao Xiang, formerly of Chesterfield, Missouri, was sentenced Thursday in federal court in St. Louis to 29 months in prison and fined $150,000. Xiang also must undergo three years of supervision upon his release from prison.
In January, Xiang pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit economic espionage. Federal prosecutors said Xiang transferred a trade secret to a memory card and then attempted to take it to China for the benefit of the Chinese government.
Xiang worked as an imaging scientist for Monsanto and one of its subsidiaries, The Climate Corporation, from 2008 to 2017.
Court records say Monsanto and The Climate Corporation developed a digital online farming software platform to help farmers collect field data to increase productivity. Part of the platform was an algorithm called the Nutrient Optimizer, which the companies considered a trade secret and their intellectual property.
In June 2017, the day after leaving employment with the companies, Xiang tried to fly to China, prosecutors said. During a search, investigators found one of Xiang’s electronic devices contained copies of the Nutrient Optimizer.
Xiang flew to China, where he worked for the Chinese Academy of Science’s Institute of Soil Science. He was arrested when he returned to the United States.
The case was brought as part of a 2018 Justice Department effort called the China Initiative, which was intended to crack down on trade secret theft and economic espionage.
The department retired the China Initiative name in February amid criticism that federal agents and prosecutors were being overly aggressive in their pursuit of Chinese academics on American college campuses. But the department’s top national security official, Matthew Olsen, said at the time that the department would continue to go after Chinese espionage and that it stood behind its ongoing investigations and prosecutions related to China.