A former Valspar Corp. employee admitted to stealing trade secrets from the paint maker with plans to take them to a new employer in China.
David Yen Lee, 54, of Jersey City, New Jersey, pleaded guilty today to theft of a trade secret with intent to economically benefit someone other than its owner before U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman in Chicago.
“Guilty, sir,” he told the judge.
According to court papers, Lee, who holds a doctorate in chemistry, worked as a technical director at the Wheeling, Illinois, facility of Minneapolis-based Valspar from 2006 to 2009, when he left to take a job in Shanghai with Osaka, Japan- based Nippon Paint Co. Nippon Paint wasn’t a defendant in the case.
When he was arrested in March 2009, Lee had a pocket-size computer “thumb drive” containing Valspar data in his possession, federal agents said. The information he took is worth $7 million to $20 million, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jessica Romero told Gettleman today.
Lee, whose crime is punishable by as long as 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, is scheduled to be sentenced on Nov. 23. The U.S. will recommend a sentence of about 5 1/2 years, Romero said. Lee, who is free on bail, and his lawyer, Daniel Rubenstein, declined to comment after the hearing.
The case is U.S. v. Lee, 09cr290, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois (Chicago).