Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Chinese energy company indicted for theft of trade secrets

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A federal grand jury has returned an indictment alleging corporate entities conspired to steal technology from a Houston-area oil & gas manufacturer, announced U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick and Assistant Attorney General John C. Demers of the Department of Justice’s National Security Division.

Jason Energy Technologies Co. (JET) in Yantai, People’s Republic of China; Jason Oil and Gas Equipment LLC (JOG) USA and Chinese national Lei Gao aka Jason Gao, 45, are charged with conspiracy, theft of trade secrets and attempted theft of trade secrets.

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Gao previously resided in Houston but is now believed to be in China. A warrant remains outstanding for his arrest.

Also charged in relation to the case is Robert Erford Jr., 41, Dayton, who worked for a Houston-area company. He previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit trade secrets.

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On or about Nov. 7, 2019, Gao allegedly met with Erford at the JOG offices located in Houston. According to the indictment, Erford signed a consultancy agreement that Gao provided at that time, indicating Erford would work in China as a consultant to assist JOG in coiled tubing technology. Erford was to be $1,000 each day of a 15-day visit, according to the charges.

This agreement allegedly also included a confidentiality provision.

At that meeting, Erford was also provided a letter from the JET general manager inviting him to visit in order to have a technical exchange and discussion, according to the charges. That letter allegedly indicated a goal of helping to promote the company’s manufacturing efficiency, reduce machine failure and increase production capacity.

Without authorization, on or about Nov. 22, 2019, Erford allegedly transferred a victim company document that contained a trade secret from the United States to China for JET’s benefit. The indictment further alleges that from approximately Nov. 25-29, 2019, Erford held meetings with Gao and JET officials at JET’s offices in China and its coiled tubing facilities. At those meetings, they allegedly discussed coiled tubing technology, including victim company proprietary technology, practices and procedures.

The charges also allege authorities obtained evidence that Erford and Gao used encrypted messaging app WeChat in December 2019 to obtain, collect and copy victim company manufacturing information.

The corporate entities could be fined up to $5 million or three times the value of the stolen trade secret, whichever is greater. Gao faces the same potential fine as well as a possible prison sentence of up to 10 years.

The FBI conducted the investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Carolyn Ferko and S. Mark McIntyre of the Southern District of Texas are prosecuting the case along with Trial Attorney William Mackie from the Department of Justice’s National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section.

The charges contained in the indictment are only allegations.  A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

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