Michigan woman convicted as Chinese spy stealing trade secrets from Coca-Cola, others sentenced to 14 years

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A Michigan woman convicted of spying for the Chinese Communist Party and using her job as a chemist to steal trade secrets from her employers, which included Coca-Cola, was sentenced by a federal judge in Tennessee Monday to serve 14 years in prison and an additional three years of supervised release. 

The judge in Greeneville, Tennessee, also ordered 59-year-old Xiaorong You, also known as Shannon You, of Lansing, Michigan, to pay a $200,000 fine following her April 2021 conviction on the federal charges of conspiracy to commit trade secret theft, conspiracy to commit economic espionage, possession of stolen trade secrets, economic espionage and wire fraud.

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According to court documents and evidence presented at trial, You stole valuable trade secrets related to formulations for bisphenol-A-free (BPA-free) coatings for the inside of beverage cans. 

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You was granted access to the trade secrets while working at The Coca-Cola Co. in Atlanta, and Eastman Chemical Co. in Kingsport, Tennessee, the Justice Department said. The stolen trade secrets belonged to major chemical and coating companies, including Akzo-Nobel, BASF, Dow Chemical, PPG, Toyochem, Sherwin Williams and Eastman Chemical Co. 

Coca-Cola bottles Mexico

Coca-Cola bottles sit in a delivery truck in Mexico City, Mexico, on Sept. 5, 2013. (Susana Gonzalez/Bloomberg via Getty Images / Getty Images)

The technology cost an estimated $120 million to develop.

You stole the trade secrets to set up a new BPA-free coating company in China. She and her Chinese corporate partner, Weihai Jinhong Group, received millions of dollars in Chinese government grants to support the new company, including a Thousand Talents Plan award. 

The Thousand Talents program was developed by the Chinese government to lure talented Chinese experts in various subject matters living overseas to bring their knowledge and experience back to China, often rewarding individuals for stealing proprietary information. 

You’s Thousand Talents application and other evidence presented at trial showed that she intended to benefit not only Weihai Jinhong Group, but also the governments of China, the Chinese province of Shandong, the Chinese city of Weihai and the Chinese Communist Party, prosecutors said. 

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“When companies invest huge amounts of time and money to develop world-class technologies, only to have those technologies stolen, the results are devastating,” Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, said. “Crimes like the defendant’s threaten both victim companies and the economic security of the nation as a whole. This case should serve as a warning to those entrusted with valuable trade secrets: if you break the law, you will be punished.”

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“Stealing technology isn’t just a crime against a company,” acting Assistant Director Bradley S. Benavides of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division added. “It’s a crime against American workers whose jobs and livelihoods are impacted. Today’s sentencing is a reminder that the FBI and its partners will hold accountable those who break our laws and threaten our economic and national security.”

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