Judge gives major break in GM theft case

Wednesday, May 1st, 2013 | Finance News

DETROIT (AP) — A former General Motors engineer convicted of stealing thousands of pages of hybrid technology was sentenced Wednesday to just a year and a day in prison, far below the punishment sought by the government in a case that involved her husband and an alleged scheme to take the trade secrets to China.

Shanshan Du's right arm and right leg shook as she tearfully expressed remorse. U.S. District Judge Marianne Battani said economic espionage is a serious crime, but she also noted Du's health problems and the seven-year length of the investigation and trial.

Federal guidelines called for a minimum sentence of 6½ years for Du and husband Yu Qin, but those guidelines aren't mandatory. Qin was sentenced to three years in prison.

"This is all my fault, and I want to take full responsibility. I'm sorry this all happened. ... I'm ashamed," Qin told the judge.

Du, 54, was convicted last fall of conspiracy and possessing trade secrets without approval. Qin, 52, was found guilty of the same crimes, along with fraud and obstruction of justice.

The government accused Du of seeking a transfer within GM to get access to hybrid technology and said she began copying documents by the end of 2003. She copied thousands of records in 2005, five days after getting a severance offer from the automaker.

By that summer, Qin was telling people he had a deal to provide hybrid technology to a GM competitor in China and had set up his own company, Millennium Technology International, the government said. The information, however, didn't make it overseas.

"Sorry. Again, I made wrong decisions. That caused me this suffering," Du said in court.

Du's health problems in the last few years have included cancer, shingles, depression and anxiety. She told a mental health expert that the FBI raid on her suburban Detroit home in 2006 had rekindled awful memories of oppression by the Chinese government during her childhood.

Du and Qin entered the United States in 1984 and have master's degrees.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Cathleen Corken asked for at least 6 ½ years in prison for the pair. She told the judge that Du didn't deserve a "slap on the wrist" for her "vital" and "central" role in stealing GM documents.

"This is not outdated technology," Corken said. "GM continues to use this technology in hybrid vehicles."

A 366-day sentence allows Du to shave months off for good behavior, meaning her actual time in prison could be only nine or 10 months.

In a letter to Battani, GM wanted the maximum punishment, eight years under the guidelines.

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