DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A federal judge said this week that a naturalized U.S. citizen from China who pleaded guilty to participating in a conspiracy to steal seed corn to pay the U.S. companies that made the seed $425,000.
Mo Hailong, 47, was living in Florida when he was arrested in December 2013. In his plea agreement with federal prosecutors in January, he admitted to being part of a conspiracy to send stolen DuPont Pioneer and Monsanto seed corn from fields in Iowa and Illinois to China, where scientists planned to reverse engineer it to reproduce its genetic traits.
U.S. seed companies invest millions of dollars into research to develop seed traits that improve plant yields and resists pests and disease.
Monday's judgment in U.S. District Court in Des Moines ordered Mo to pay each company $212,500 in restitution, as well as forfeit farms near Monee, Illinois, and Redfield, Iowa, to the U.S. government.
He also must turn himself in within 90 days to begin serving his three-year prison sentence. Judge Stephanie Rose asked the Bureau of Prisons to place him either in North Carolina or Miami. Due to Mo's diagnosis of a rare and aggressive cancer she asked the agency to follow all medical treatment for cancer screening prescribed by his doctors.
Mo's attorney, Mark Weinhardt, cited the treatment as a primary reason for entering a plea and avoiding a long and complex trial.
Mo is the only one of the employees of Kings Nower Seed, a subsidiary of Beijing-based DBN Group, allegedly involved in the conspiracy that's been prosecuted. Five other Chinese nationals fled the country, and charges were dropped last year against his sister, who is married to DBN's CEO, and she was allowed to return to China.
The investigation began when DuPont Pioneer security staff in Iowa detected suspicious activity, including men crawling around in cornfields. The FBI planted GPS monitors on rental cars and tapped cellphones of some of the men.
Mo, who goes by the name Robert Mo, has lived in the U.S. for nearly 20 years, is a legal permanent resident and his wife and children are U.S. citizens.
Rose, however, said he must report after his prison sentence to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which may deport him under the Immigration and Nationality Act. That allows for deportation of naturalized immigrants convicted of certain crimes.