Ex-CME Software Engineer Admits to Trade-Secrets Theft

A former CME Group Inc. software engineer confessed to stealing trade secrets from his ex-employer, the operator of the world’s largest futures exchange.

Chunlai Yang, 49, who was indicted last year, pleaded guilty to two counts of trade-secrets theft today before U.S. District Judge John Darrah in Chicago.

Yang admitted to downloading more than 10,000 files containing source code for the CME Globex electronic-trading platform, acting Chicago U.S. Attorney Gary Shapiro said in a statement. The Libertyville, Illinois, resident is to be sentenced on Feb. 20. While Yang faces a top sentence of 10 years in prison on each count, nonbinding federal guidelines dictate a term of 70 to 87 months, according to his plea agreement.

“He did not intend any consequence for his actions,” Yang’s lawyer, Edward Genson, said in a phone interview. He called his client’s downloads “misguided.”

Prosecutors said Yang intended to use the stolen information to improve an electronic-trading exchange in Zhangjiagang, China, and that he was plotting with two other, unnamed business partners. The U.S claims the potential loss was at least $50 million.

Yang worked for the Chicago-based CME for 11 years, rising to the rank of senior software engineer and gaining access to the company’s proprietary Globex trading programs, according to the U.S. He downloaded more than 10,000 files to his work computer at CME, then to a pocket-sized storage device and, ultimately, to his own computers.

“What the government characterizes as an attempt, we characterize as a mistake,” Genson said. He said he will seek probation for Yang, arguing that no property was actually transferred and that a sentence in excess of 5 1/2 years is unwarranted.

The case is U.S. v. Yang, 11-cr-458, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois (Chicago).

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