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Coca-Cola Chemist Gets 14 Years for Passing Can Secrets to China

May 10, 2022, 3:58 PM

A chemist who worked at Coca-Cola Co. was sentenced Monday to 14 years in prison for stealing trade secrets related to a BPA-free coating for the inside of cans and passing them to a Chinese company.

Xiaorong You, a Pennsylvania woman also known as Shannon You, was convicted by a Tennessee jury in April 2021 of stealing eight trade secrets owned by various entities, economic espionage, and wire fraud. She sold the stolen confidential information to Weihai Jinhong Group, which was backed by the Chinese government’s Thousand Talents program to recruit leading experts in research and innovation.

Evidence showed that You, who has a Ph.D. in polymer science and engineering, intended to benefit not only Weihai Jinhong Group but its city Weihai, its province Shandong, and the Chinese Communist party, according to the release. The Thousand Talents program, launched in 2008, has been implicated in various cases of intellectual property theft from US companies and research institutions.

The trade secrets in this case—owned by companies including Dow Chemical Co., PPG Industries Inc., Sherwin-Williams Co. and Eastman Chemical Co.—collectively cost about $120 million to develop, according to the indictment in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee. You gained access to the proprietary information on various chemicals, formulas, and processes through work at Coca-Cola in Atlanta and Eastman in Kingsport, Tennessee.

The secrets all related to a bisphenol-A-free (BPA-free) coating for the inside of cans. BPA, an industrial chemical long used to make certain plastic and resins to preserve flavor, has been shown to leach into food or beverages and tied to a range of health problems.

Two alleged co-conspirators, Hongmei Fan and Xiangchen Liu, had their cases severed from You’s during prosecution.

“Stealing trade secrets of U.S. companies for the benefit of the Chinese government will be vigorously prosecuted in the Eastern District of Tennessee, and today’s 14-year sentence reflects the seriousness of this defendant’s crimes,” said Francis M. Hamilton III, the US attorney for the Eastern District of Tennessee, in a Justice Department press release. “The corporate vigilance and subsequent cooperation with federal law enforcement that brought this defendant to justice is to be commended; our national security depends on it.”

Acting Assistant Director Bradley S. Benavides of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division in the release called technology theft “a crime against American workers whose jobs and livelihoods are impacted.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Kyle Jahner in Washington at kjahner@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Adam M. Taylor at ataylor@bgov.com