MILWAUKEE — A Medical College of Wisconsin researcher has been charged with economic espionage after he stole samples of a possible cancer-fighting compound and credited himself with its discovery in a grant application to study in China, prosecutors said.
Hua Jun Zhao, 42, stole three vials of the C-25 powder compound from the office of Marshall Anderson, a professor at the college in suburban Milwaukee, with the intention of providing it to Zhejiang University in China, according to a federal criminal complaint.
Zhao was a member of Anderson’s team, which was researching whether the compound could help to kill cancer cells without damaging healthy ones, school spokeswoman Maureen Mack said.
It is not clear how far along testing of the compound is and whether it has been used only in the lab or been tested in animals or people. Mack said rights to the compound are owned by the Medical College of Wisconsin and the University of Cincinnati.
Anderson noticed the vials were missing Feb. 22. School security video showed Zhao was the only person who entered Anderson’s office that day. Federal investigators questioned Zhao about the vials on Feb. 27, but he claimed he did not understand their questions, the complaint says. The school immediately placed him on administrative leave.
Zhao’s coworkers told the FBI that Zhao spoke excellent English and that he had lived in the United States for many years. Mack declined to say how long Zhao worked at the school and would not provide details of his immigration status, referring questions to the FBI. Messages seeking comment were left Tuesday with the FBI and the US attorney’s office.
Zhao’s wife lives in Zhejiang, according to the criminal complaint.
The stolen vials are worth $8,000, the complaint said.
Zhao was arrested March 29 and charged with economic espionage, which carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison and a $500,000 fine.