A retired University of Tennessee physics professor was sentenced to 48 months in prison for using one Chinese and one Iranian graduate student to work on a research project relating to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs); for taking a laptop containing restricted technical data with him on a trip to China; and for having information emailed to him at a Chinese professor’s email account.
This sounds like it was a train wreck. Apparently, Professor John Reece Roth regarded his research, which was related to a U.S. Air Force contract, as having nonmilitary applications and not being properly subject to the export-controls laws. There seem to have been accusations, though, that he tried to disguise his activities, and continued doing what he was doing even after being warned that it was illegal. (Remember the old saying that the cover-up is often worse than the crime; recall that Martha Stewart was sent to prison not for insider trading, but for allegedly lying about her trading to federal investigators.)
And it also appears that prosecutors wanted to make an example of the professor.
For more information:
- Knoxville News Sentinel report of sentencing
- U.S. Dept. of Justice press release
- Philosophy of Science blog entry summarizing earlier Associated Press story with additional background information
- Earlier Knoxville News Sentinel article with more background information revealed during the trial
- Wiley Rein LLP summary of earlier phase of the case