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Married San Diego scientists plead guilty to fraud, smuggling charges

Posted at 6:28 PM, May 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-19 21:28:19-04

SAN DIEGO (CNS) - A married couple from San Diego who worked as research scientists for a pharmaceutical company pleaded guilty Thursday to taking confidential vaccine research from the company and smuggling hazardous materials into the United States.

Chenyan Wu, 58, and Lianchun Chen, 51, both worked at one time for the company identified only as "Company A" by the U.S. Attorney's Office, which said Wu moved to China and opened a lab there in 2010, while his wife remained in San Diego to work for Company A.

Prosecutors say Chen "repeatedly accessed Company A computers and copied confidential Company A materials" over the course of almost five years, then emailed those materials to her husband in order to help his competing laboratory in China, called TheraMab.

Wu attempted to shift TheraMab's laboratory to the U.S. last year, but was stopped by customs officials in Seattle with chemical and biological samples in his luggage. Some of the materials Wu brought from China were identified as hazardous materials that must be reported upon entry into the United States, the U.S. Attorney's Office said.

Wu did not declare any of the items on a U.S. Customs form and later told investigators that China's strict rules for international shipping led him to "take a gamble to be honest" in his bid to smuggle the materials in his suitcases, according to prosecutors.

Wu pleaded guilty to a federal smuggling charge, while Chen pleaded guilty to computer fraud.

They're both scheduled to be sentenced in August.

"The defendants used their placement and access to obtain and illegally share confidential lab research for their own benefit," said FBI Special Agent in Charge Stacey Moy. "Their attempt to smuggle hazardous material into the United States was thankfully foiled by Customs and Border Protection upon entry."