World / Crime & Legal

Man admits joining plot to steal Iowa seed corn to ship to China in trade secrets theft


A naturalized U.S. citizen from China entered a plea agreement with federal prosecutors Wednesday, admitting he participated in a conspiracy to steal seed corn from U.S. companies.

Mo Hailong, a lawful and permanent resident of the United States, was living in Florida when he was arrested in December 2013.

He is accused of traveling to the Midwest to work with other employees of Kings Nower Seed, a subsidiary of Beijing-based DBN Group to take corn seed out of fields in Iowa with the intent of shipping it to China so scientists could attempt to reproduce its genetic traits.

In the plea agreement, Mo admits that he conspired to steal trade secrets from DuPont Pioneer and Monsanto.

He is the only one who’s been prosecuted for conspiracy. Five other Chinese nationals working with Mo fled the country. Charges were dropped last year against his sister, who is married to DBN’s billionaire CEO, and she was allowed to return to China.

Mo, 46, will be sentenced later in Des Moines. He had faced 10 years in prison on the charges but the government agreed to seek no more than five years.

The plea agreement indicates that Mo will give to the government farms near Monee, Illinois, and Redfield, Iowa. It also said that he also acknowledges he may be immediately deported from the U.S. after he serves his prison sentence.

The investigation began two years ago when DuPont Pioneer security staff in Iowa detected suspicious activity including Chinese men crawling around in cornfields. They alerted the FBI, which began an investigation that included planting GPS monitors on rental cars and tapping cellphones of some of the men.