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July 15, 2013
An Update on the Wisconsin Lab Theft Case
Back in April I mentioned this story, about a researcher at the Medical College of Wisconsin who'd been charged with economic espionage. The accusation was that Hua-jun Zhao had stolen an investigational oncology compound from the lab of Prof. Marshall Anderson, apparently to set up a research program with it back in China.
Now comes word that Zhao has pleaded guilty to a lesser charge, breaking into a university computer. But this is still not a good outcome for him:
Zhao, 41, initially pleaded not guilty to tampering with a private computer and lying to a federal agent. An additional charge of economic espionage was dropped but prosecutors maintained the right to renew it with a future indictment.
Instead, as part of a plea deal, Zhao pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of accessing a computer without authorization, thereby obtaining information worth at least $5,000. He faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine and will be sentenced next month.
If this is what things got bargained down to, the situation must have been grim. The medical school says that it has no objection to the plea. The missing vials of compound have not been recovered, but it doesn't look like Zhao (update: fixed the name!) is going to be working on the stuff any time soon.
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