Mallet on wood
With Lexingtonian Haoyang Yu’s sentencing scheduled for next month, his lawyers filed a motion Monday asking the Court to reconsider their pre-trial motion to dismiss Yu’s case, which alleges that the case against Yu was grounded in bias based on his Chinese ethnicity. (Courtesy of Envato Elements)

In May, Lexingtonian Haoyang Yu was found guilty of possessing a stolen trade secret – a microchip prototype owned and developed by his former employer, Analog Devices, Inc. – following a month-long jury trial where he was acquitted on the great majority of charges. But some in Lexington, especially among the Town’s burgeoning Chinese American community, still say that Yu is a casualty of tense U.S-China geopolitics and never should have been criminally prosecuted.

With Yu’s sentencing scheduled for next month, his lawyers filed a motion Monday asking the Court to reconsider their pre-trial motion to dismiss Yu’s case, which alleges that the case against Yu was grounded in bias based on his Chinese ethnicity.

During the trial this spring, the jury acquitted Yu of 18 other charges, including other counts of possessing stolen trade secrets, immigration fraud, wire fraud and illegal export, as previously reported.

In October 2020, District Judge William Young wrote that the Court would continue to hold Yu’s pre-trial motion to dismiss the case “under advisement” while proceeding with his trial. Young wrote that the trial would present more evidence about whether disproportionate discrimination against individuals with Chinese ancestry for comparable charges was relevant to Yu’s own prosecution.

The judge added that the defendant bore responsibility for demonstrating the discriminatory effect and purpose of the law’s enforcement, and that the evidence presented pre-trial – including a list of civil trade secret cases that the government did not upgrade to criminal prosecution, and one civil case filed by Yu’s company against non-Chinese defendants – did not suffice to merit dismissal of Yu’s case because of the many charges against him on top of trade secret possession.

“There is a world of difference between trade secret theft among American companies, and trade secret theft where one of the parties violates export controls or passes the stolen technology to a foreign entity,” Young wrote. He added that “If the Government’s evidence on these matters is not persuasive, however, Yu’s motion would have far more bite” – and all other charges against Yu were cleared in his May trial. 

A supplemental memorandum supporting Yu’s new motion makes this exact point. So does a letter co-signed by several regional organizations, including Chinese Americans of Lexington (CALex), which the signatories sent to U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins on Monday in support of the pre-trial motion alleging unlawful racial profiling as grounds to dismiss the remaining criminal charge. The letter was attributed to CALex and Asian Americans for Equal Rights co-founder and Vice President Helen Yang. 

“We cannot help but wonder, if the defendant were not Haoyang Yu, a first generation immigrant from China, but a descendant of pilgrims on the Mayflower, would he have been subjected to over four years of exhaustive criminal investigation by multiple federal agencies and being charged with twenty one counts of crimes by the United States?” Yang wrote in the letter.

In an interview, Yang explained that regardless of the merit of Yu’s single remaining conviction, CALex believes that racial profiling contributed to the case being prosecuted in criminal court instead of civil court. Yu’s former employer, Analog Devices, Inc., filed a separate civil suit against him in early August; CALex is not taking a position on that suit. The letter notes that this civil lawsuit “will permit the company to obtain any appropriate legal remedies” even with the dismissal of Yu’s single criminal charge.

“We are not making any judgments on the merit of the last count of trade secret charge,” Yang said. “We believe it’s a civil case. And we believe the origin of the case is tied to racial profiling.” What’s more, the fact that nearly all original charges were dropped further indicates to her that “it was just a trumped-up charge; the entire thing was trumped up.”

Yang was friendly with Yu’s wife, Yanzhi Chen, before the federal government began investigating Yu in 2019, the year after the U.S. government launched the China Initiative at a time of heightened trade tensions between the two countries. Yang first found out about the case from Chen when about 20 armed guards raided the family’s home in June 2019, interrogating both Yu and Chen. Chen also faced charges of wire fraud, which were all dismissed in June following Yu’s single conviction. Lexingtonians and others have donated nearly $30,000 to the fundraiser Chen started for the family last month.

When Yu was finally put on trial this spring, Yang attended a few sessions, where she learned more about the case and “got a strong impression that racial profiling was part of the whole thing.”

For instance, Yang noted that the search warrant leading to Yu’s original arrest was based on false pieces of information, including a federal agent incorrectly labeling Yu a Chinese national under oath, though he is actually a naturalized U.S. citizen. The letter co-signed by CALex also references this error.

“Please do not assume that we are representatives of foreign governments,” Yang wrote.

Some academics have found evidence of patterns of ethnic prejudice in Department of Justice prosecutions against Chinese defendants. In a 2021 National Bureau of Economic Research paper, for instance, academics Hanming Fang and Ming Li found that defendants of Chinese heritage are charged on more counts on average in indictments under the Economic Espionage Act, but their cases are more likely to be dismissed.

Letter signatories identified with Yu’s personal story of immigrating to the United States and becoming Americans. “Many of us are among the same cohort of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) immigrants who came to the United States since the 1990s when the U.S. scouted top talents in STEM across the globe,” Yang wrote. “Having traveled a similar path as Mr. Yu, we consider ourselves proud Americans embracing the American way of life.”

Over the summer, CALex members discussed the trial, and agreed that racial profiling appeared to play a role in Yu’s case. Yu’s lawyers – William Fick and Daniel Marx – made a motion to dismiss the single conviction in May, which CALex members hoped would be successful; when it was rejected in early September, CALex members decided to take action, and ultimately did so by collecting signatures for and co-signing this letter.

Other co-signing organizations include the Chinese American Network of Winchester, Chinese Culture Society of Greater Nashua, the Sharon Chinese Association and Tsinghua Alumni Association of Greater Boston. Yu previously lived in Nashua, NH, and is an alumnus of Tsinghua University.

CALex was originally founded with the goal of opposing racial profiling, Yang explained. When the Massachusetts legislature considered a bill proposed to collect country of origin data on Asian Americans in 2017, “it raised a tremendous amount of concern about racial profiling, especially during an ongoing tension between US and China,” Yang recalled. CALex was formed from members intent on opposing this bill. 

Defending Yu against racial profiling, to Yang, is “very much in the DNA of CALex.”

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts declined a request for comment, citing the pending case.

Correction: A previous version of this article misspelled U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins’ first name. It is Rachael, not Rachel. LexObserver regrets the error.

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