The Associate Press
KANSAS CITY, Kan. - A federal judge has approved bond for two scientists from China accused of stealing trade secrets from an agriculture research facility in Kansas.
A grand jury in December indicted Weiqiang Zhang and Wengui Yan on one count each of conspiracy to steal trade secrets and theft of trade secrets. Zhang was an agricultural seed breeder at Ventria Bioscience's facility in Junction City. Yan was a U.S. Department of Agriculture research geneticist at the Dale Bumpers National Rice Research Center in Stuttgart, Ark. They're accused of stealing Ventria rice seeds containing proteins used for therapeutic purposes.
Ventria was the only U.S. producer of those particular seeds and said if the seeds were stolen and the technology compromised, "its entire research and development investment would be compromised," according to the federal complaint against the two men. The company said its investment in developing the seeds ranged up to $18 million.
Yan and Zhang were denied bond at their initial detention hearings in December, but were later granted new hearings last month in federal court in Kansas City, Kan.
Prosecutors objected to bond for both men, saying there would be no way to "reasonably assure" their appearance at upcoming hearings, and that Zhang lied to investigators and had structured certain financial transactions in an apparent effort to avoid reporting them.
In federal court in Arkansas, where Yan's initial detention hearing was held, a magistrate initially declined Yan bond, saying Yan had "considerable and somewhat mysterious sources of income."
U.S. District Judge Carlos Murguia, however, signed orders Jan. 31 for Zhang and Yan to be allowed release on $50,000 appearance bonds, according to online court records. Conditions of their release include handing over their passports, electronic monitoring and cancelling of all credit cards except one with a $10,000 maximum.
It was unclear Friday if Yan had been released. A lawyer for Yan didn't immediately respond to messages seeking comment.
Zhang, who remained in custody Friday, hadn't been able to make the $50,000 bond because a bank wouldn't give his wife a second mortgage on their home in northeast Kansas, according to court documents. In a motion filed Friday, Zhang's public defender, Thomas Bartee, said Zhang's wife was turned down for the loan "due to concerns about Mr. Zhang's creditworthiness."
The motion, which asked the judge to modify the original order to allow Zhang to post bond with money from something other than a second mortgage, said Zhang has other sources who can provide the $50,000 appearance bond, including a brother-in-law in China and a friend at Purdue University.
Zhang and Yan, who have pleaded not guilty, each face up to 10 years in prison and fines up to $250,000 on each count. They're scheduled for a next appearance in federal court in Kansas City, Kan., on Feb. 18.