Verdict in Seed Espionage Case

Mo Hailong, a permanent U.S. resident from China, was sentenced to three years in prison for stealing trade secrets from Monsanto and DuPont Pioneer.

Mo, who is also known as Robert Mo of Florida, first became the subject of a criminal investigation in 2011, after a farmer and a DuPont Pioneer field manager found him and other Chinese men digging in a corn field where test plots of new seed corn varieties were growing in central Iowa. 

Mo was arrested in 2013, but five other men with whom he was working fled the U.S. before they could be arrested, according to Associated Press reports.

Prosecutors say Mo traveled the Midwest working for Kings Nower Seed, a subsidiary of Chinese conglomerate Beijing Dabeinong Technology Group Co., to take corn seed and ship it to China so scientists could attempt to reproduce its genetic traits.

The judge also ordered the forfeiture of two farms in Iowa and Illinois, which were bought and used by Mo during the conspiracy.

Mo, who was the only person prosecuted in the case, was sentenced Oct. 5. He was born in China but settled in the U.S. in 1989. He later became a naturalized citizen, living in Florida with his wife and two children. He pleaded guilty in January.

In the plea agreement, Mo admitted to conspiring to steal trade secrets from DuPont Pioneer and Monsanto. 

Evidence showed he provided more than 1,000 lb. of corn seed to the Beijing Dabeinong Technology Group Co., whose CEO is Mo’s brother-in-law.

“Theft of trade secrets is a serious federal crime, as it harms victim companies that have invested millions of dollars and years of work toward the development of propriety technology,” says U.S. attorney Kevin VanderSchel.

The Des Moines Register reported during the sentencing hearing, U.S. District Court Judge Stephanie Rose said prison time was necessary to send a message against such espionage. 

“We need to send a message to China that this kind of criminal behavior is not tolerated in the U.S.,” said Ross, as quoted by the Des Moines Register. Mo’s attorney, Mark Weinhardt says his client is remorseful. 

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