Chinese National Pleads Guilty to Committing Theft of Trade Secrets

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Department of Justice
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Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Chinese National Pleads Guilty to Committing Theft of Trade Secrets

Hongjin Tan, a 35 year old Chinese national and U.S. legal permanent resident, pleaded guilty Tuesday in federal court to committing theft of trade secrets from his employer, a U.S. petroleum company.

Tan pleaded guilty to theft of a trade secret, unauthorized transmission of a trade secret, and unauthorized possession of a trade secret. The defendant stole the information from a U.S.-based petroleum company regarding the manufacture of a “research and development downstream energy market product” that is worth more than $1 billion.

“Tan’s guilty plea continues to fill in the picture of China’s theft of American intellectual property,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers. “The Department launched its China Initiative to battle precisely the type of behavior reflected in today’s plea —illegal behavior that costs Americans their jobs — and we will continue to do so.”

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“China’s economic aggression poses a threat to America’s emerging high-technology industries. Industrial spies like Hongjin Tan engage in espionage to steal American trade secrets and intellectual property born out of the innovation that is innate in our free market system,” said U.S. Attorney Trent Shores for the Northern District of Oklahoma. “Thanks to a vigilant company and the investigative efforts of the FBI, Hongjin Tan was caught red handed and prosecuted. American ingenuity and know-how are the envy of the international market, and the U.S. Attorneys community will work to protect our economic infrastructure.”

"Trade secret theft is a serious crime which hurts American businesses and taxpayers. The FBI will continue to protect our country's industries from adversaries who attempt to steal valuable research and technology," said FBI Special Agent in Charge Melissa Godbold of the Oklahoma City Field Office.

Tan was employed as an associate scientist for the U.S. petroleum company starting in June 2017 until his arrest in December 2018. The defendant was assigned to work within a group at the company with the goal of developing next generation battery technologies for stationary energy storage, specifically flow batteries. In his plea agreement, Tan admitted to intentionally copying and downloading research and development materials without authorization from his employer.

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On Dec. 11, 2018, Tan used a thumb drive to copy hundreds of files. He subsequently turned in his resignation and was escorted from the premises on Dec. 12, 2018. Later that day, he returned the thumb drive, claiming that he had forgotten to do so before leaving his employer’s property. Upon examination, it was discovered that there was unallocated space on the thumb drive, indicating five documents had previously been deleted. Investigators with the FBI searched Tan’s premises and found an external hard drive. They discovered that the same five missing files from the thumb drive had been downloaded to the hard drive. Tan maintained the files on a hard drive so he could access the data at a later date. Further accessing the material would have been financially advantageous for Tan but caused significant financial damage to his Oklahoma employer.

U.S. District Judge Gregory K. Frizzell presided over the plea hearing and set sentencing for Feb. 12, 2020.

The FBI conducted this investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Joel-lyn A. McCormick of the Northern District of Oklahoma and Trial Attorney Matthew J. McKenzie of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section (CES) are prosecuting the case, with assistance from Trial Attorney Matthew R. Walczewski and Assistant Deputy Chief Brian J. Resler of the Criminal Division’s Computer Crimes and Intellectual Property Section (CCIPS).

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Department of Justice
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Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Justice Department Settles Immigration-Related Discrimination Claim Against Florida-Based Tech Staffing Firm

The Department of Justice announced today that it has reached a settlement with Perspective Talent LLC, a Pembroke Pines, Florida information technology recruiting and staffing firm. The settlement resolves the Department’s investigation into whether the firm discriminated against work-authorized non-U.S. citizens, including asylees, because of their citizenship status, in violation of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). 

"Recruitment agencies canno post unlawful job adervitsemetns that operate as artificial barriers and narrow employment opportunities based on citizenship status or national origin,”  said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division. “The Civil Rights Division is committed to removing these discriminatory barriers to employment.”

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The Department’s investigation arose from a complaint made by a work-authorized asylee alleging that Perspective Talent’s discriminatory job advertisement excluded him from consideration based on his citizenship status.  After investigating the complaint, the Department concluded that Perspective Talent routinely posted job advertisements that unlawfully restricted applicants to U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, and TN-1 visa holders.  Based on this practice, Perspective Talent initially failed to refer the complainant for a job because of his asylee status.  After learning of the Department’s investigation, Perspective Talent took immediate corrective action by referring the complainant for the position and correcting its job advertisements.  Federal law generally prohibits discrimination in recruiting based on a worker’s citizenship status or national origin.

Under the terms of the agreement, the firm will participate in training on the INA’s anti-discrimination provision, change its policies and procedures, and be subject to departmental monitoring and reporting requirements to ensure that its job advertisements do not unlawfully exclude individuals who are authorized to work in the United States based on their citizenship or immigration status.

The Civil Rights Division’s Immigrant and Employee Rights Section (IER) is responsible for enforcing the anti-discrimination provision of the INA. Among other things, the statute prohibits citizenship status and national origin discrimination in hiring, firing, or recruitment or referral for a fee; unfair documentary practicesretaliation and intimidation.   

For more information about protections against employment discrimination under immigration laws, call IER’s worker hotline at 1-800-255-7688 (1-800-237-2515, TTY for hearing impaired); call IER’s employer hotline at 1-800-255-8155 (1-800-237-2515, TTY for hearing impaired); sign up for a free webinar; email; or visit IER’s English or Spanish websites.  You can also sign up to receive updates about IER’s work by subscribing toGovDelivery.

Applicants or employees who believe they were subjected to discrimination based on their citizenship, immigration status, or national origin in hiring, firing, or recruitment or referral for a fee; discrimination in the employment eligibility verification process (Form I-9 and E-Verify) based on their citizenship, immigration status, or national origin; or retaliation can file a charge or contact IER’s worker hotline for assistance.

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Department of Justice
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Friday, November 8, 2019

Insurance Broker Found Guilty of 22 Counts in $2 Million Scheme to Defraud Carefirst Bluecross Blueshield

A federal jury found a District of Columbia insurance broker guilty today for his role in a scheme to defraud CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield of more than $2 million.

Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Jessie K. Liu of the District of Columbia, Acting Assistant Director in Charge Timothy R. Slater of the FBI’s Washington Field Office and Special Agent in Charge Maureen Dixon of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General’s (HHS-OIG) Philadelphia Regional Office made the announcement.

Following a two-week trial, Tarek Abou-Katwa, aka Dean Addem, 59, of the District of Columbia, a licensed insurance broker and the owner of Benefits Consulting Associates LLC, was found guilty of one count of health care fraud, three counts of making false statements related to health care matters, seven counts of mail fraud, six counts of wire fraud and five counts of identity theft charged in a March 2018 indictment.  Abou-Khatwa is expected to be sentenced on March 3, 2020, by U.S. District Judge Tanya S. Chutkan of the District of Columbia, who presided over the trial.

According to the evidence presented at trial, Abou-Khatwa was involved in a scheme to defraud CareFirst BlueCross Blue Shield by creating fictitious employees and altering years of birth of actual employees to fraudulently obtain lower insurance premiums, inflate the rates charged to clients and pocket the difference, which was in excess of $2 million.

The FBI and HHS-OIG investigated the case with the help of the D.C. Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking.  Trial Attorney Alexander Kramer of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Derrick Williams of the District of Columbia are prosecuting the case.  Assistant U.S. Attorney Virginia Cheatham of the District of Columbia previously handled the prosecution.

The Fraud Section leads the Medicare Fraud Strike Force.  Since its inception in March 2007, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, which maintains 15 strike forces operating in 24 districts, has charged more than 4,200 defendants who have collectively billed the Medicare program for nearly $19 billion.  In addition, the HHS Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, working in conjunction with the HHS-OIG, are taking steps to increase accountability and decrease the presence of fraudulent providers.

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