Attorney: Former NASA contractor subject of 'witch hunt'
Daily Press (Newport News, Va.)
NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — A local attorney has accused a Northern Virginia congressman of spearheading a "witch hunt" against his client, a Chinese national facing charges of lying to federal investigators last weekend.
Bo Jiang, a former NASA Langley Research Center contractor, was stopped by the FBI on Saturday before getting on a plane to China. He was charged with lying to federal investigators after allegedly telling them that he was carrying fewer computer storage devices than he really was.
U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf, R-McLean, has linked Jiang to the congressman's contention that NASA has farmed out much of its work to contractors in order to circumvent federal restrictions on workers from China and certain other countries. Wolf has also connected Jiang to the possibility that Chinese workers were stealing NASA technology and sharing it with the Chinese military.
But Jiang's lawyer, Fernando Groene — a former federal prosecutor who now practices out of Williamsburg — said he's not going to let Wolf misportray Jiang. Groene briefly spoke to reporters after a federal court hearing Thursday in which Jiang's bond hearing was continued until next week.
When asked by a reporter if Jiang was going to plead not guilty to the charges next week, Groene answered with his own question: "To the witch hunt for which he's being made a scapegoat, or the (allegations) for which he's charged?"
Groene challenged Wolf to come to the trial in Newport News federal court to present his evidence against Jiang. "If Congressman Wolf wants to come down and testify against my client, we'll be glad to cross examine him," Groene said.
Asked why Jiang was going to China, Groene said, "He was going home."
Groene said Jiang had lost his job at the National Institute of Aerospace in Hampton in January, for reasons that Groene said were not performance related.
Jiang is in the United States under a visa program for highly qualified workers, Groene said, and had put in "over 100 applications" for a new job, but didn't find one. Because his visa was "soon" expiring, Groene said, Jiang decided to leave the country.
Groene contended that Jiang's attempted departure had nothing to do with the FBI's opening of an investigation into Jiang last week for possible violations of the federal Export Control Act. "He wants to tell his side of the story and to be vindicated," Groene said.
Jiang was not stopped "on a plane," Groene said, in contrast to an affidavit by an FBI special agent investigating the case. Instead, Groene said, Jiang was stopped inside Dulles International Airport.
Though Jiang was initially charged via an FBI warrant and criminal complaint after being arrested, he was indicted by a grand jury with the same charge on Wednesday.
"When asked by federal agents ... what electronic media he had with him that he was taking to the People's Republic of China, he knowingly and falsely stated that he only had a cell phone, a memory stick, an external hard drive and a new computer," the grand jury's indictment said.
"At the time Bo Jiang provided these statements," he "well knew" that he had other items — "an additional separate laptop and two hard drives, as well as a SIM card for a cell phone and iPod, which was material to the investigation of the Arms Export Control Act and other federal violations," the indictment said.
Though the indictment doesn't mention it, the previous criminal complaint said that on a previous trip home to China, Jiang is believed to have taken along a NASA laptop containing sensitive information.
A detention hearing was set to be held in the case on Thursday afternoon, to decide whether Jiang should be held or released on bond while awaiting trial.
But Groene asked U.S. Magistrate Judge Lawrence Leonard for a continuance "to prepare properly for the detention hearing."
Groene said that he hasn't been able to speak to Jiang's friends and colleagues at NASA. He said he was told by NASA lawyers that they were awaiting a determination from the U.S. attorney's office on whom Groene is allowed to talk with there.
The U.S. attorney's office didn't object to a continuance, and Leonard set a bond hearing for next Thursday.
About 10 of Jiang's family and friends attended the hearing, many of them from Old Dominion University. His mother, who had been visiting from China in recent months — and had planned to stay until June — was in attendance.
One friend, Hao Qiu, 26, an ODU graduate student, said Jiang would never have lied about what he was had in his possession. He attributed any misstatements to Jiang getting nervous about being questioned.
"He was not on purpose doing that," Qiu said. "That guy is good. I trust him. We're all here to support him."