Thursday, July 11, 2013

Wisconsin researcher pleads guilty to computer tampering

Remember this sad story of a postdoc pilfering a compound from the Medical College of Wisconsin to take to China? He's pleading guilty to unauthorized access to a computer, and faces 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.


  1. He is pleading lesser offense (government is using computer-hacking criminal law for prosecuting industry espionage) but he could still bear the weight of the industrial espionage suspicion during his sentencing if the judge determines that there is a "preponderance of evidence" rather than "beyond a reasonable doubt" that he attempted industrial espionage.

    This is troubling because by pleading to lesser charge you can still get slammed with jail time resulting from the original charge (especially if the lesser offense to which you pled has a wide sentencing range). And you give up the right to defend yourself in front of jury and the burden of proof for the prosecution is far lesser when they argue in front of judge that you deserve 5 years because you were stealing IP property worth millions.

  2. The Aqueous LayerJuly 12, 2013 at 10:00 AM

    I would imagine that when negotiating this plea deal that part of the agreement was that the prosecution would be recommending a lesser sentence. A judge typically follows that recommendation, but doesn't necessarily have to, I suppose.

    The Medical College of Wisconsin did not protest this plea deal, so clearly they want to be done with this as well. Hopefully they have some IP protection in place for the compound that was taken.

    I do expect that this postdoc will end up being deported when he serves out his sentence.

    1. Well, considering he wanted to move back anyway, deportation seems pretty reasonable.

      I don't know, this seems kind of small potatoes. I would have sent him home without letter of reference, and tried to kill his tenure-track appointment. Acting as though he stole millions of $$ in IP? Trying for jail time? Seems like overkill, or like a way to keep the rest of the serfs in line... i dunno.

      I've got to say, i'm a little uncertain he really knew what his deal meant, given how he now needs interpreters everywhere (after 7+ years in the states? wtf) and how much he understands the US judicial system.

    2. Not that I understand the criminal mind, but it seems to me that stealing not-worth-very-much-IP is not a sign of intelligence, I would think.

    3. Not a sign indeed. The old question "lying or stupid" also comes up.

      I imagine it's possible for immigrants to really misunderstand their 'rights' here (and can imagine some getting easily railroaded) if they're from a, let's say, less human-rights-centric country. But pretending you don't speak English, when you've been here for almost a decade and all your coworkers say you spoke it fine two months ago, does chafe my hide.

  3. Letting him lounge around in prison is letting him off too easy. He should have to serve a lifetime sentence as a postdoc. However, that might be considered cruel and unusual punishment.


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