SAN FRANCISCO — Two men were found guilty of stealing a US company’s recipe for making a chemical used to whiten products from cars to the middle of Oreo cookies and selling it to a competitor, Pangang Group, controlled by the Chinese government.
The federal jury found Robert Maegerle, 78, and Walter Liew, 56, guilty of economic espionage. Each could face 15 years or more in prison and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.
Noting Liew’s connections to China, US District Judge Jeffrey White ordered him taken into custody. ‘‘He has received millions of dollars from the People’s Republic of China that remains unaccounted for,’’ White said. ‘‘That’s a lot of money that could help someone flee.’’
The two men were convicted of stealing DuPont Co.’s method for making titanium dioxide, a chemical that fetches $17 billionin annual sales.
Prosecutors said Liew and his wife, Christina, launched a California company in the 1990s aimed at exploiting China’s desire to build a DuPont-like factory to make the chemical. The couple recruited former DuPont scientists with the single-minded goal of winning Chinese contracts. Maegerle worked for DuPont from 1956 to 1991 before joining the Liews. Prosecutors said he provided the Liews with detailed information about DuPont’s Taiwan factory.
Tze Chao, another former DuPont scientist, pleaded guilty in 2012 to conspiracy to commit economic espionage and will be sentenced later. Tim Spitler, a former DuPont engineer linked to the case, committed suicide.