SAN JOSE (CBS SF) — A former Apple employee was charged Monday with stealing trade secrets after being arrested at Mineta San Jose International Airport two days earlier.
Xiaolang Zhang was a hardware engineer on Apple’s autonomous vehicle development team from December 2015 until May 5, according to a criminal complaint filed in federal court in San Jose.
Due to his role on the team, prosecutors said Zhang had access to confidential databases, trade secrets and intellectual property.
Authorities said Zhang went to China while taking paternity leave from April 1 to April 28, then returned to the company on April 30 to tell his employer he would be resigning to take care of his mother in China.
Zhang also disclosed that he would be taking a position at Xiaopeng Motors, a Chinese startup company that focuses on electric cars and autonomous vehicle technology.
During his resignation, he turned over two iPhones, a MacBook and complied to Apple’s intellectual property policy, according to the complaint.
On May 1, Apple investigators began reviewing Zhang’s user activity on the company’s databases. Investigators found that Zhang’s network activity increased “exponentially” in the days leading up to April 30, shortly before he resigned.
According to the complaint, that activity was mainly bulk searches and targeted downloads of “copious” pages of information, which contained trade secrets and intellectual property.
Investigators also found video surveillance that showed Zhang at the Apple campus on April 28 during his paternity leave, but he allegedly denied he did so during a follow-up interview. According to the complaint, Zhang then recanted his statement and said he had been on the campus to retrieve some computer cables, a keyboard and a server. He also admitted to “air-dropping” information onto his wife’s computer, saying he needed it for a future position at Apple that he was considering before he announced his resignation.
A later search by Apple investigators found that 60 percent of the information on his wife’s computer was “highly problematic,” according to the complaint.
Zhang was “voluntarily terminated” from Apple on May 5, though his data privileges were revoked on April 30. Zhang told his employer that he and his family would soon move to Guangzhou, China.
The FBI searched Zhang’s home on June 22 and FBI agents arrested Zhang at Terminal B of Mineta San Jose International Airport on Saturday. According to the complaint, Zhang had booked a last-minute, round-trip flight alone to Beijing and Hangzhou, China, on Hainan Airlines.
Zhang claimed to work in a Mountain View office of Xiaopeng Motors before his arrest.
If convicted, Zhang faces a sentence of 10 years in jail and $250,000 in fines. Assistant Federal Defender Tamara Crepet, listed in court records as Zhang’s attorney, declined to comment on the case.
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