Peter Zeidenberg Featured in Alma Mater Boston College Law School Magazine Discussing His Work Defending Two Chinese Americans Accused of Espionage
In BC Law School Magazine’s winter edition, author Chad Konecky recounts the story of two Chinese American scientists accused of espionage by the US government. Peter Zeidenberg, a partner in Arent Fox's White Collar & Investigations practice, represented the scientists in both cases, successfully convincing the federal government to drop the charges in both. Peter is well versed in the inner workings of the US Department of Justice, having spent 17 years as a federal prosecutor before going to private practice.
The accused, Xiaoxing Xi and Sherry Chen, are Chinese-born scientists who immigrated to the United States and are naturalized American citizens. Xi was accused of sharing secret information with a foreign government and faced a sentence of 80 years if convicted. Chen was accused of illegally downloading information from a restricted government data base and making false statements to government agents, for which she faced a $1 million fine and up to 40 years in prison, if convicted.
As the article notes, the separate accusations of espionage against Xi and Chen are not unique or a coincidence. In President Obama’s 2013 State of the Union Address, he spoke of the Department of Justice’s new plan to combat foreign nations’ and companies’ attempts to steal intellectual property. The DOJ’s aggressive strategy led to a 30 percent increase in prosecutions under the Espionage Act between 2013 and 2015. During that time, more than half of all prosecutions by the DOJ involved an alleged Chinese connection.
In both Xi and Chen’s cases, the evidence against them was weak and ill-informed. In an interview with 60 Minutes on this topic, Peter said “From my perspective [federal prosecutors] are casting too wide of a net. They’re scooping up a lot of fish that should be immediately thrown back, and they don’t seem to realize it.”
Before either case made it to trial, Peter met with the federal prosecutors in each case, laid out the holes in the respective clients’ cases, and convinced the government to drop all charges for both Xi and Chen.
Colleague Michael A. Shwartz, Peter’s local counsel on Mr. Xi’s case, praised Peter, saying “He’s a passionate advocate. He understands difficult it is to represent a person who is accused, but presumed innocent, when the government brings untested charges against them. I’m very proud of the fact that the prosecutors in this case ultimately decided to do the right thing and dismiss this case.”
After the charges against Xi and Chen were dropped, DOJ changed its oversight protocol. However, Peter has yet to see any reduction in the number of prosecutions or in the quality of the evidence presented under the Espionage Act. “I can’t say the change in DOJ protocol gives me any satisfaction,” he said.
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