Man accused of "economic espionage" pleads guilty to lesser charge

WAUWATOSA (WITI) -- Hua Jun Zhao, the Chinese national accused of stealing cancer research from the Medical College of Wisconsin, originally accused with the serious crime of "economic espionage" has pleaded guilty to a much lesser charge: "computer tampering."

Zhao was accused of stealing cancer research and shipping it to China.

In a plea agreement obtained by FOX6 News, Zhao admits he "intentionally accessed a computer without authorization" and obtained information worth more than $5,000 in value.

The initial criminal complaint against Zhao showed he worked for Dr. Marshall Anderson at the Medical College of Wisconsin, researching an organic compound called C-25.

The compound held the promise of a medical breakthrough -- a pill that destroys cancer cells but doesn't hurt healthy cells.

The FBI says Anderson left three bottles of C-25 on his desk, and walked out of the lab for a moment. When he returned, the bottles were gone.

Surveillance video showed Zhao entering the office during that time in late February.

Authorities also searched Zhao's computer and found hundreds of items related to Dr. Anderson's research on C-25. It could have amounted to espionage and 15 years in prison, but all of these charges will be dismissed when he's sentenced.

The remaining mystery is this: The three bottles of C-25 have never been found, and one federal prosecutor called that an "outstanding issue" in the case.

Meanwhile, the Medical College of Wisconsin issued a statement saying the school is "vigilant in our protection of research integrity. We initiated contact with the Federal Bureau of Investigation when the research breach was detected, and have cooperated fully in the FBI's investigation. We did not file an objection to the plea."

Zhao faces a maximum of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

He will be sentenced on Tuesday, August 6th and until then, he remains in federal custody. He will serve his sentence in the United States, and could then face deportation in a separate proceeding.