Hidden in a sock: Chinese researcher accused of trying to smuggle vials of ‘biological material’ out of US

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Hidden in a sock: Chinese researcher accused of trying to smuggle vials of ‘biological material’ out of US

By Caitlin Yilek

A Chinese researcher was arrested after he allegedly tried to smuggle vials of a “biological material” on a flight from the United States to Beijing.

Bags belonging to Zaosong Zheng, 29, were inspected on Dec. 9 at Boston Logan International Airport after agriculture specialists for Customs and Border Protection identified the Chinese national as “a high risk for possibly exporting undeclared biological material,” according to a redacted FBI affidavit.

Customs officers found 21 vials containing a brown liquid wrapped in a plastic bag and hidden in a sock. Officers also found a laptop belonging to a Chinese national whose name had been redacted from the affidavit.

“These vials contacted what appeared to be biological materials that were not properly declared or packaged for transportation in a commercial aircraft,” the affidavit said.

Officers approached Zheng before he boarded the plane to Beijing and asked if he was traveling with any biological or research materials. Zheng denied doing so but later acknowledged the bags carrying the vials were his.

When asked why he had not declared the vials, Zheng said, "They were not important and had nothing to do with his research,” according to court documents. He said he received the vials from a friend, Zhang Tao, but had no explanation for why he was taking them out of the U.S.

The affidavit said Zheng confessed to stealing eight vials from a research lab at Beth Israel Hospital, and no one else was aware he had done so. He said he had replicated 11 vials based on research by Tao.

“Zheng stated that upon his return to China, he was planning to immediately go to his lab in China and begin working on his research using the stolen vials. Zheng explained that if the results of his research were successful in any way that he planned to publish a paper in his name,” the affidavit said.

Zheng said he was carrying the laptop in his suitcase because it did not fit in the luggage of the person whose name had been redacted. The FBI said they found what appeared to be research material on the device.

He has been charged with making false statements to U.S. Customs. He remains in custody.

The biological samples are being examined, and their contents are not yet known.

In November, the New York Times reported that the FBI and the National Institutes of Health are trying to root out scientists suspected of stealing biomedical research for other countries. Nearly all of the incidents they under investigation involved scientists of Chinese descent. 


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Thursday, November 21, 2019

Chinese National Who Worked at Monsanto Indicted on Economic Espionage Charges

Haitao Xiang, 42, formerly of Chesterfield, Missouri, was indicted today by a federal grand jury on one count of conspiracy to commit economic espionage, three counts of economic espionage, one count of conspiracy to commit theft of trade secrets and three counts of theft of trade secrets. 

According to the indictment, Xiang was employed by Monsanto and its subsidiary, The Climate Corporation, from 2008 to 2017, where he worked as an imaging scientist.  Monsanto and The Climate Corporation developed a digital, on-line farming software platform that was used by farmers to collect, store, and visualize critical agricultural field data and increase and improve agricultural productivity for farmers.  A critical component to the platform was a proprietary predictive algorithm referred to as the Nutrient Optimizer.  Monsanto and The Climate Corporation considered the Nutrient Optimizer a valuable trade secret and their intellectual property.

“The indictment alleges another example of the Chinese government using Talent Plans to encourage employees to steal intellectual property from their U.S. employers,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers.  “Xiang promoted himself to the Chinese government based on his experience at Monsanto.  Within a year of being selected as a Talent Plan recruit, he quit his job, bought a one-way ticket to China, and was caught at the airport with a copy of the company's proprietary algorithm before he could spirit it away.” 

“The revolutionary technology at the core of this case represents both the best of American ingenuity and why the Chinese government is so desperate to steal it for themselves,” said Assistant Director John Brown.  “The FBI is committed to working with a host of partners to stop individuals, like the defendant in this case, from engaging in economic espionage to acquire information and technology for a foreign government that is either unable or unwilling to compete on a level playing field.  Our country’s economic security is our national security, and the FBI will always do everything in our power to protect it.”

“Stealing trade secrets can destroy a business,” said Special Agent in Charge Richard Quinn of the FBI St. Louis Division.  “When done at the behest of a foreign government, it threatens our nation’s economic security because it robs our companies of their market share and competitive advantage.”

In June 2017, the day after leaving employment with Monsanto and The Climate Corporation, Xiang bought a one-way plane ticket to China.  Before he could board his flight, Xiang was intercepted at the airport by federal officials who seized copies of the Nutrient Optimizer. 

If convicted, each espionage charge carries up to 15 years in prison and a $5,000,000 fine.  Each theft of trade secrets charges carries up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

The FBI is investigating this case.  Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Drake and Trial Attorneys Heather Schmidt and Heather Alpino in the Counterintelligence and Export Control Section of the National Security Division are handling this case. 

An indictment is a formal accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence.  A defendant is presumed innocent unless convicted through due process of law.

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Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Chinese National Sentenced to Over Three Years in Prison for Trafficking Counterfeit Apple Goods into the United States

A Chinese national living in the United States on a student visa was sentenced today to 37 months in prison followed by one year of supervised release for his role in a scheme to traffic and smuggle counterfeit Apple products, including phony iPhones and iPads, from China into the United States.

Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito of the District of New Jersey, Special Agent in Charge Brian Michael of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in Newark and Bergen County Prosecutor Mark Musella made the announcement.

Jianhua “Jeff” Li, 44, previously pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Kevin McNulty of the District of New Jersey, to one count of conspiracy to traffic in counterfeit goods and labels and smuggle goods into the United States and one count of trafficking in counterfeit goods.  Judge McNulty imposed the sentence today in Newark federal court.

According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court, from July 2009 through February 2014, Li, working through his company Dream Digitals, conspired with Andreina Becerra, Roberto Volpe, Rosario LaMarca and others to smuggle and traffic into the United States from China more than 40,000 electronic devices and accessories, including iPads and iPhones, along with labels and packaging bearing counterfeit Apple trademarks. 

Li shipped the devices separately from the labels to avoid detection by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials.  The devices were then shipped to conspirators all over the United States.  Proceeds were funneled back to conspirator accounts in Florida and New Jersey via structured cash deposits and then a portion was transferred to conspirators in Italy, further disguising the source of the funds.  Over $1.1 million in sales proceeds were wired from U.S. accounts into accounts Li controlled overseas.

LaMarca, Becerra, and Volpe previously pleaded guilty to their respective roles in the scheme.  LaMarca was sentenced July 21, 2017, to serve 37 months in prison. Becerra and Volpe were sentenced Oct. 15, 2018, to serve three years’ probation and 22 months in prison, respectively.

The HSI Newark Seaport Investigations Group and the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Financial Crimes Unit investigated the case with significant assistance from HSI Attaché Rome, Europol and Italy’s Guardia di Finanza.

Senior Trial Attorney Kebharu Smith of the Criminal Division’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Leslie Schwartz of the District of New Jersey prosecuted the case.

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Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Chinese Citizen Sentenced in Scheme to Sell Mislabeled Dietary Supplements

Xu Jia Bao (aka Fred Xu), of Shanghai, China, was sentenced in Dallas yesterday to 18 months’ imprisonment and one year of supervised release in connection with a scheme to sell mislabeled dietary supplements, the Department of Justice announced today. 

Xu, 48, is the principal of Shanghai Waseta International Trade Co. Ltd., a Chinese firm that sells raw ingredients for use in dietary supplements. Xu pleaded guilty in August 2018 in the Northern District of Texas to one count of wire fraud. Waseta, the company, also pleaded guilty to wire fraud in September 2018. The company was sentenced in February 2019 to one year of probation and ordered to pay a $500,000 fine. 

In pleading guilty, Xu admitted that he agreed with others working at Waseta to sell synthetic stimulant ingredients, including the substance known as DMHA, to a purported dietary supplement manufacturer in the United States. Xu admitted that the purported dietary supplement manufacturer, actually a confidential government informant, told him that Waseta ingredients would not be accurately listed on the labels of the finished dietary supplement. Xu admitted that he knew major American retailers would refuse to carry supplements known to contain certain stimulants, such as DMHA. Xu also admitted that he and Waseta caused a falsely labeled shipment of DMHA to be sent to Texas.

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“Consumers are entitled to trust that dietary supplements products accurately identify their ingredients,” said Assistant Attorney General Jody Hunt for the Department of Justice’s Civil Division. “We will vigorously pursue and prosecute those who attempt to circumvent the law by falsely identifying the substances they import into the United States.”

Xu and Waseta both were sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Sam A. Lindsay of the Northern District of Texas. Xu was arrested in September 2017 while attending a dietary supplement trade show in Las Vegas. Another defendant named in the case, Li Ting Ting (a.k.a. Sunny Lee), the overseas sales manager for Shanghai Waseta, is not believed to be in the United States.

“Consumers deserve to know what’s in the supplements they ingest,” said U.S. Attorney Erin Nealy Cox. “The Northern District of Texas will not stand by as companies mislead consumers.”

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“Dietary supplements that contain undeclared synthetic stimulant ingredients pose a risk to the health of U.S. consumers,” said Charles L. Grinstead, Special Agent in Charge, FDA Office of Criminal Investigations’ Kansas City Field Office. “We will continue to investigate and bring to justice those who jeopardize the public health by importing and selling misbranded supplements.”

The case was investigated by FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations. The case was prosecuted by David Sullivan and Patrick R. Runkle, Trial Attorneys in the Department of Justice’s Consumer Protection Branch, and Kate Rumsey and Douglas Brasher, Assistant United States Attorneys for the Northern District of Texas.

Additional information about the Consumer Protection Branch and its enforcement efforts may be found at For more information about the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Texas, visit its website at


出售错标成份的膳食补充剂 中国公民被美司法部判刑

国司法部今天宣布,来自中国上海的徐家宝(Fred Xu)因销售错贴标签的膳食补充剂,周一在达拉斯被判处18个月监禁和一年的监外看管。

现年48岁的徐家宝是上海威斯特国际贸易有限公司(Shanghai Waseta International Trade Co.Ltd.)的法人,这家中国公司从事保健品、膳食补充剂原料销售等业务。



美国司法部民事司助理检察长乔迪·亨特(Jody Hunt)说:“消费者有权相信膳食补充剂产品的成分能够一目了然。我们将大力追查并起诉那些试图通过错误标识将物品进口到美国,从而规避法律的人。”

徐家宝2017年9月在拉斯维加斯参加一个膳食补充剂贸易展时被捕。本案另一名被告李婷婷(音译,又名Sunny Lee)据信不在美国。李婷婷是威斯特国际贸易有限公司的海外销售经理。

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Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Louisiana-Based Licensed Clinical Social Worker Pleads Guilty to Medicaid Fraud Scheme

A Louisiana-based licensed clinical social worker pleaded guilty today for his role in a scheme to defraud Medicaid.  

Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Brandon J. Fremin of the Middle District of Louisiana, Special Agent in Charge C.J. Porter of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General’s (HHS-OIG) Dallas Field Office, Special Agent in Charge Eric J. Rommal of the FBI’s New Orleans Field Office and Director Jeff W. Traylor of the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (MFCU) made the announcement. 

Michael Dan Gaines, 66, of Baker, Louisiana, pleaded guilty to one count of health care fraud.  His sentencing has not yet been scheduled by U.S. District Judge John W. deGravelles of the Middle District of Louisiana, who accepted his plea.

Gaines was a supervisory-level licensed clinical social worker at St. Gabriel Health Clinic Inc. (St. Gabriel), which  was a federally qualified health center (FQHC) headquartered in St. Gabriel, Louisiana that contracted with the Iberville Parish School Board to provide medical services within the school district.  As a FQHC, St. Gabriel could provide primary care services to students as well as services related to the diagnosis and treatment of mental illnesses, provided that such services were medically necessary, among other requirements.  As part of his guilty plea, Gaines admitted that he and other St. Gabriel practitioners provided character development seminars and other educational programs to entire classrooms of students during regular class periods.  Gaines further admitted that St. Gabriel then submitted numerous fraudulent claims to Medicaid, falsely representing that the practitioners had performed group psychotherapy.  In addition, Gaines admitted that to facilitate the fraudulent scheme, he and others falsely diagnosed students with mental health disorders. 

According to the indictment, during the relevant time period, St. Gabriel’s claims for group psychotherapy services totaled more than $1.8 million.

The case was investigated by HHS-OIG, the FBI and the MFCU, and was brought as part of the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, supervised by the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Louisiana.  Trial Attorneys Justin M. Woodard and Jared Hasten of the Fraud Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Jessica M.P. Thornhill of the Middle District of Louisiana are prosecuting the case.  

The Medicare Fraud Strike Force is part of a joint initiative between the Department of Justice and HHS to focus their efforts to prevent and deter fraud and enforce current anti-fraud laws around the country.  Since its inception in March 2007, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, which maintains 14 strike forces operating in 23 districts, has charged nearly 4,000 defendants who have collectively billed the Medicare program for more than $14 billion.

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