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Ex-Espionage Suspect Gets Time-Served for Computer Crime

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Aug. 6 (Bloomberg) -- A Chinese citizen once accused of economic espionage by the U.S. was sentenced to time served after pleading guilty to a lesser charge of computer tampering.

Hua Jun Zhao, who was arrested in March and jailed since then, was originally charged with stealing three vials of an experimental cancer-fighting drug from a Medical College of Wisconsin lab for a Chinese university.

Zhao, 41, who worked at the lab, pleaded guilty last month to a single count of gaining unauthorized access to a computer from which he took information worth more than $5,000.

U.S. District Judge Charles Clevert in Milwaukee said today at Zhao’s sentencing that while the scientist had committed a crime, “he has served his sentence during the course of this case.”

Zhao apologized for the events and told the judge he was “totally guilty of entering the lab and making a copy of the data.” He said that for the entire time he had been in the U.S. he had focused exclusively on his research.

“I had not time to learn American culture,” he said.

He still may face deportation.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Ingraham, who asked that Zhao be sentenced to six to 12 months in jail called for under the U.S. sentencing guidelines, described Zhao as an exceptional scientist who was attempting in a misguided way to protect his work.

‘Gather Facts’

The espionage allegations, detailed in a Federal Bureau of Investigation agent’s affidavit supporting Zhao’s arrest, weren’t repeated in an April indictment charging him with damaging a medical college computer and lying to federal agents.

“As you gather facts, your view of a situation sometimes changes,” Ingraham told reporters after Zhao entered his guilty plea on July 10.

Zhao’s lawyer, Michelle Jacobs, asked Clevert to sentence her client the time he already spent in jail. Zhao “panicked” after school officials seized his personal laptop computer, other portable memory devices and papers during its investigation into the missing compound, Jacobs said in a filing.

The vials are still missing.

The case is U.S. v. Zhao, 13-cr-00058, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Wisconsin (Milwaukee).

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrew Harris in the Chicago federal courthouse at 5926 or aharris16@bloomberg.net; Marie Rohde in federal court in Milwaukee at fmarierohde@gmail.com.

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

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