Former Sanofi Chemist Gets 18 Months for Trade Secrets Theft

A former Sanofi (SAN) research chemist was sentenced to 18 months in prison for stealing company trade secrets and making them available for sale through the U.S. unit of a Chinese company.

Yuan Li, 30, was sentenced today in federal court in Trenton, New Jersey, where she pleaded guilty Jan. 17 and admitted to stealing information about Sanofi compounds and trying to sell them on the website of Abby Pharmatech Inc. Li, a Chinese national who lives in Somerset, New Jersey, was also ordered by U.S. District Judge Joel Pisano to pay $131,000 in restitution.

Li is a 50 percent partner in Abby, which sells pharmaceuticals. Abby is a U.S. unit of a Chinese company, Xiamon KAK Science & Technology Co., according to court papers.

Li worked from 2006 to 2011 in the U.S. headquarters of Paris-based Sanofi in Bridgewater, New Jersey, where she worked to develop compounds that could be used in future drugs and that hadn’t been disclosed to the public, including in patent applications, according to a statement by U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman.

In pleading guilty, Li admitted that from January 2010 to June 2011, she downloaded data on compounds, including their chemical structures, and used personal e-mail or a USB thumb drive to transfer it to her home computer, Fishman said.

‘Ill-Conceived Plan’

Under advisory sentencing guidelines, Li faced between 18 and 24 months in prison, said her attorney, Paul Brickfield.

“We are grateful that the judge gave her the lowest end of the guideline range,” Brickfield said.

“The ironic thing was that the website didn’t have the items that they listed for sale, because they belong to Sanofi,” he said. “It was a very ill-conceived plan from the beginning. She was, by all accounts, a rising star from Sanofi.”

After her release from prison, Li will be deported to China, according to Brickfield.

The case is U.S. v. Li, 12-cr-34, U.S. District Court, District of New Jersey (Trenton).

To contact the reporter on this story: David Voreacos in Newark, New Jersey, at dvoreacos@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net.

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