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Former Apple employee pleads not guilty to theft

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A former Apple employee who was charged with stealing trade secrets on Thursday pled not guilty to the charges in federal court in San Jose on Monday, according to federal prosecutors.

Prosecutors said Xialong Zhang, 33, a former hardware engineer for Apple’s autonomous vehicle team, allegedly downloaded a 25-page document with detailed schematic drawings about a circuit board designed to be used in the critical infrastructure of a portion of an autonomous vehicle from Apple servers in late April with intentions to give the information to a Chinese competitor he was working for.

According to prosecutors, Zhang then resigned from his position at Apple on April 30, telling the company he was taking a job at Xiaopeng Motors – a Chinese startup company that focuses on electric cars and autonomous vehicle technology – to be closer to his ill mother in China, prosecutors said.

Apple investigators then immediately began reviewing Zhang’s user activity on the company’s databases, prosecutors said. The company investigators found that Zhang’s network activity increased “exponentially” in the days leading up to April 30, when he resigned.

Prosecutors said Zhang admitted to investigators that he “air-dropped” information onto his wife’s computer, saying he needed it for a future position at Apple that he was considering before he announced his resignation.

A later search by Apple investigators found that 60 percent of the information on his wife’s computer was “highly problematic,” according to the complaint.

The FBI searched Zhang’s home on June 22 and FBI agents arrested Zhang at Terminal B of Mineta San Jose International Airport on July 7 as he prepared to depart on a round-trip ticket to Hangzhou, China.

Zhang claimed to work in a Mountain View office of Xiaopeng Motors before his arrest.

If convicted, Zhang faces a sentence of up to 10 years in federal prison and $250,000 in fines. He has been released on $300,000 bond and is currently under GPS electronic monitoring, according to prosecutors.

Zhang’s next court appearance is scheduled for Aug. 27 at 1:30 p.m. before Judge Edward Davila.

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