Chinese thief of U.S. corn seed sent to prison for three years

In 2011, the FBI began surveillance of Chinese nationals suspected of intellectual property theft. Unlike high-profile cases involving high-tech computers and the like, the criminals’ target was new technology of a different sort: bio-engineered corn seed from numerous U.S. companies. Much of the pilfered seed is suspected of ending up back in China.

Several weeks ago, in early October, one of the ring-leading thieves, Mo Hailong, was sentenced to three years in a federal prison for his part in the enterprise. Once released from the hoosegow, Hailong will pay restitution and be supervised by law enforcement for another three years. Five of Hailong’s colleagues also face charges but are apparently back in China.

The criminal complaint ( filed in the case is quite a read, instructive in both level of the men’s skullduggery (some sophisticated, some laughably ridiculous) and seeming cultural acceptance, even pride, in the stealing. Hailong and colleagues – who, according to transcripts of undercover recordings, knew the trouble they faced if caught -- were certainly a busy bunch traveling around the Midwest.

Just one facet of the story occurred in early May 2011. Hailong and a Chinese seed company official were observed at an Iowa seed corn field. The producer says the men told him they were attending an agricultural conference nearby – a common excuse for the thieves, it turns out.

The very next day, a field manager “saw Mo on his knees in the same grower’s field” that had been planted several days earlier. Another “Asian male” was sitting in a car nearby. Confronted by the manager, this time Mo said he was a University of Iowa employee. When the manager was distracted by a phone call, the Chinese “quickly departed,” driving through a ditch to make their exit.

They weren’t quick enough to avoid having their tag numbers written down, though. The car turned out to be a rented by Hailong.

Go read the complaint. The scope and desire of the men to thieve ag tech, and what it took for U.S. law enforcement to finally catch them, is rather mind-boggling.

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