CINCINNATI (FOX19) -The FBI division in Cincinnati is helping Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus with an investigation involving a woman who pleaded guilty Thursday to conspiring to steal scientific trade secrets from the hospital for her company in China and wire fraud, court documents states.
Court documents say, Li Chen, 46, from Dublin, Ohio, admitted to stealing scientific trade secrets related to exosomes and exosome isolation from Nationwide Children’s Hospital’s Research Institute.
“Li Chen was a trusted researcher at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, conducting cutting-edge U.S. government-funded research,” stated FBI Cincinnati Special Agent in Charge, Chris Hoffman. “With her guilty plea, she admits that she abused this trust to establish a company in China for her own financial gain. The FBI is committed to working closely with partners such as Nationwide Children’s Hospital to protect the innovations that make America a world leader in science and technology.”
Court documents say Chen and then-husband, Yu Zhou, 50, were arrested in July 2019 and charged with conspiring to steal at least five trade secrets related to exosome research from the hospital.
The plea agreement states that Chen conspired to steal and monetize one of the trade secrets by creating and selling exosome “isolation kits” for the company in China in 2015 without the hospital’s knowledge.
Chen admitted to receiving benefits from the Chinese government, including the State Administration of Foreign Expert Affairs and the National Natural Science Foundation of China. Court documents say the hospital was completely unaware of this, court documents state.
The plea also states that Chen applied to multiple Chinese government talent plans-a method used by China to transfer international research and technology to the Chinese government.
Chen used hospital time, resources, and equipment at the hospital to benefit the company in China, court documents state.
Court documents also say that in 2017, Zhou and Chen helped co-found an American biotechnology company. During that same year, Zhou and Chen allegedly received more than $876,000 and stock related to an asset purchase agreement involving the biotechnology company. It is also alleged Zhou entered into a stock purchase agreement with that same company under which he would receive $450,000.
Chen agreed to forfeit about $1.4 million, 500,000 shares of common stock of Avalon GloboCare Corp., and 400 shares of common stock of GenExosome Technologies Inc., the plea says.
State officials say conspiring to, attempting to and committing theft of trade secrets is punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Conspiring to, attempting to and committing wire fraud carries a potential maximum sentence of up to 20 years in prison.
Zhou’s case is still pending.