Mo Hailong, also known as Robert Mo, pleaded guilty this past January to being part of a conspiracy to steal corn seeds from fields in Iowa and Illinois, then send those seeds back to China.
The patents for the hybrid corn varieties that were targeted are owned by DuPont Pioneer and Monsanto. Mo worked for a company in China that has a seed corn subsidiary and had obtained legal resident status in the U.S.
Stealing the trade secrets from U.S. companies would save the Chinese billions in research and development costs, according to prosecutors. Security for DuPont Pioneer caught Mo digging in a test plot in 2011 and called the FBI.
Prosecutors believe up to six other people, including Mo’s sister, were in on this seed corn caper. A judge ruled prosecutors couldn’t use text messages linked to Mo’s sister and charges against her were dropped. The five others are believed to be living outside the U.S.