Researcher Accused of Espionage to Admit to Lesser Crime

An ex-Medical College of Wisconsin researcher once suspected of trying to steal a developmental cancer drug for China agreed to plead guilty to a computer-tampering charge.

Hua Jun Zhao, a Chinese national, will enter the plea on July 10 before U.S. District Judge Charles N. Clevert in Milwaukee, according to the court’s electronic docket.

A plea agreement signed by Zhao on June 28 was filed yesterday with the court with a revised charging document known as a criminal information.

“The parties understand and agree that the charge set forth in the information carries the following maximum term of imprisonment and fine: five years and $250,000,” according to the agreement.

It’s the third charging document filed in the case, which began in March with Zhao accused of committing economic espionage by taking the cancer-research compound to give it to a university in China.

A Milwaukee federal court jury in April indicted Zhao for computer tampering and lying to federal agents. When he pleaded not guilty on April 11, Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Ingraham asked the court to dismiss the earlier charges and allow prosecutors to refile them at a later date.

Dean Puschnig, a spokesman for U.S. Attorney James L. Santelle, didn’t immediately reply to a voice-mail message seeking comment on the plea agreement.

Defense Lawyer

Zhao’s attorney, Michelle L. Jacobs, declined to comment on the case until after her client is sentenced.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Patricia Gorence in April found Zhao was a flight risk and ordered him detained. He is being held at the Waukesha County Jail.

Zhao, on being questioned by Medical College officials about the disappearance of the three vials of the compound known as C-25 in February, denied any involvement, according to the agreement.

He was nonetheless suspended, and his access to the college and its labs was revoked on Feb. 27. He returned later that day and logged in to one of its computers, deleting information on the compound from his user directory.

The data was later found on his personal computer, according to the plea agreement. At the time of his arrest in March, Zhao had an airline ticket to China, where his wife and children live.

He was scheduled to go to trial July 29.

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

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