Jury begins deliberations in GM theft trial
DETROIT -- A jury began deliberating late this afternoon whether to convict a Michigan couple of stealing General Motors trade secrets related to hybrid-car technology to help develop such vehicles in China.
A federal prosecutor said a former GM engineer and her husband stole sensitive hybrid-vehicle information for their own economic benefit during closing arguments in a trial today.
Defendants Shanshan Du and her husband, Yu Qin, face charges of stealing GM hybrid technology for a business venture to build a hybrid electric vehicle in China with Chery Automobile Co., a Chinese auto manufacturer and GM competitor.
Du, who was hired in 2000 as an engineer for GM’s Advanced Technology Vehicles Group in suburban Detroit, copied 16,262 documents covering hybrid vehicles on a thumb drive about five days after being offered a severance agreement in January 2005. Of the more than 16,000 documents Du copied, 18 allegedly contained trade secrets.
Both BMW and the former DaimlerChrysler paid GM around $40 million to use similar hybrid-vehicle information.
Du “was the linchpin of the conspiracy,” U.S. Attorney Cathleen Corken said.
Qin’s attorney, Frank Eaman, countered later Thursday that the prosecution didn’t prove that there were any trade secrets in the case. Just because a technology is important doesn’t make it a secret, he said.
Eaman said he doubted that GM would give Du, whom he described as a “low level” employee, access to important trade secrets.
Eaman said someone in Du’s position wouldn’t even know whether the documents she copied were trade secrets.
There was nothing earth shattering contained in the documents, Eaman said, adding that the technology described in the documents can’t be plugged into another car.
Robert Morgan, Du’s attorney, said the prosecution is asking the jury to do something GM didn’t do with the documents: treat them as trade secrets.
However, the defense said reasonable electronic and physical measures were taken to protect the information.
For example, Corken said employees weren’t allowed to copy files on personal thumb drives.
On Aug. 30, 2005, an external hard drive containing the documents was found in Qin’s bag at his job at Controlled Power Co. in suburban Detroit. Controlled Power had fired Qin that day for operating a separate company, Millennium Technology International Inc., and turned the hard drive over to GM.
Qin, who was vice president of engineering for Controlled Power, denied to company management any involvement with Millennium and said his wife ran the company even though he was listed as the president in several corporate filings.
Millennium, like Controlled Power, concentrated on power electronics, but Qin and Du wanted to venture into hybrid technology.
On May 23, 2006, FBI agents said they used ground and air surveillance to watch the couple as they drove to a Farmer Jack grocery store in suburban Detroit, where Qin unloaded two plastic bags containing shredded documents, including some relating to GM inverter technology, which were the subject of a federal grand jury subpoena.
The FBI executed a search warrant of the couple’s home earlier that day.
“Their actions are not the actions of the innocent,” Corken argued.
Qin and Du were indicted in July 2010 and pleaded not guilty to three counts each of trade theft and wire fraud. Qin also was charged with obstruction of justice.
Each of the trade theft counts carries a 10-year sentence and/or a $250,000 fine. Both the wire fraud and obstruction of justice counts carry a penalty of 20 years and/or a $250,000 fine.
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