Lexington resident Haoyang Yu was sentenced to six months in federal prison followed by three years of supervised release for possessing a stolen microchip design owned by his former employer, Analog Devices, Inc. He was also ordered to pay a fine of $55,000, plus restitution. Yu’s attorney suggested that he is likely to appeal.
Yu originally faced 21 federal criminal charges in the trade secrets theft case, including immigration fraud, wire fraud, and transferring designs to China. He was acquitted of all but one charge, the single count of possessing a stolen design.
Throughout the case, attorneys for Yu, a U.S. citizen who was born in China, have argued that it was marred by racial bias. In a hearing last month, they argued that the case should be dismissed due to “selective enforcement,” asserting that similar intellectual property cases were usually settled quickly in civil court, while Yu’s case was treated as a national security threat and investigated by the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security, among other federal and local agencies. Judge William Young agreed that there was “implicit bias,” but denied the motion to dismiss the case on those grounds. “It’s hard to say that Mr. Yu’s race or ethnicity was not a factor here,” Young acknowledged.
In Boston’s federal court on Thursday, Judge Young opened the proceedings by calculating the highest possible sentence the court could impose given the circumstances, which, in his estimation, amounted to 27 months in prison and a fine of $95,000 plus restitution. Young noted that the actual sentence in most analogous cases was much lighter.
Prosecuting attorney Amanda Beck requested that Yu receive the full 27 months and a fine of $250,000 plus restitution, arguing that Yu stole an “enormous IP cache” worth millions of dollars, referring to allegations outside the single trade secret Yu was ultimately convicted of possessing.
“Mr. Yu did wrong, there’s no doubt about that,” Young said. But the judge disagreed with the government’s reasoning for a long sentence and higher fine. “The government is suggesting a sentence that would include acquitted conduct” he said.
Yu’s attorney, William Fick, argued that, while Yu had made mistakes, he had already faced more than enough punishment and should be sentenced to “time served,” a fine no greater than $5,000, and a year of supervised release.
Yu and his family have endured four years of mental anguish as the case has dragged on, beginning in June 2019 when their house was searched by federal agents and Yu was taken away in handcuffs. The case has taken a significant financial toll; Yu has lost two jobs since his initial arrest. The stigma of a felony conviction is itself a form of punishment, Fick argued.
“Mr. Yu spent 6 days at Wyatt [Detention Facility],” he said. “For somebody like Mr. Yu, it turned his life upside down.”
Judge Young argued that a prison sentence was necessary to highlight the seriousness of the case and to deter others from committing trade secrets theft in the future.
Though the question of racial bias had been a persistent theme throughout the case, the issue was hardly discussed at the sentencing. “Implicit bias will not play any role in this court’s sentence,” Young said.
But it was on the minds of Yu’s many supporters gathered in the courtroom, including his two teenage sons and about twenty members of the Chinese-American community of Lexington and neighboring towns, many of whom skipped a day of work to attend.
“What should have been a civil case tried in a federal court — it’s despicable,” said Han Wei, a Winchester resident who originally met Yu through local basketball pick-up games.
“I think it’s unfortunate that the current political environment influences how an individual is treated by the legal system,” said Lexington resident and Town Meeting member Dahua Pan. ”It’s supposed to be fair and free of biases and discrimination.”
Given an opportunity to speak towards the end of the hearing, Yu thanked “friends and community members who have been standing by me, and giving me the stamina to go through this intensive extremely stressful process.”
“Your Honor, I humbly plead for your mercy,” he said, addressing Judge Young. “I eagerly await the day when I can embark on a new chapter in my life.”