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Archive for Thursday, May 29, 2003

Med Center staffer receives probation in espionage case

KU assistant professor expresses regret for misstatements in FBI probe

May 29, 2003

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— A researcher was put on probation and fined $500 Wednesday for lying to the FBI in an investigation of economic espionage involving Alzheimer's disease research.

Hiroaki Serizawa, 41, an assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at Kansas University Medical Center, pleaded guilty a year ago to making false statements.

As part of a plea deal, charges against him tied to economic espionage were dismissed Wednesday. U.S. District Judge David Dowd also ordered Serizawa to perform 150 hours of community service.

Serizawa and former Cleveland Clinic scientist Takashi Okamoto, 42, both from Japan, were accused two years ago of stealing biological materials used for researching Alzheimer's disease.

The FBI estimated that the missing materials cost the Cleveland Clinic about $2 million. The Alzheimer's research was halted because of the missing goods and destruction of genetic materials.

Eileen Sheil, a spokeswoman for the clinic, on Wednesday declined to comment on the status of its Alzheimer's research.

Okamoto remains charged with conspiracy, economic espionage and interstate shipment of stolen property. Cleveland FBI agent Bob Hawk said Wednesday the Justice Department was trying to complete a request for Okamoto's extradition from Japan.

Serizawa, who will be on probation for three years, called the sentence his chance "to restart my life." He thanked his family and friends for showing support, and he said he deeply regretted giving wrong information to FBI agents Sept. 2, 1999, concerning his acquaintance with Okamoto.

That included denying he had recent contact with Okamoto and denying knowing that Okamoto had taken a research position in Japan with RIKEN, a Japanese government-sponsored research facility.

The false statements charge also said he misstated the number of research vials kept and then taken out of Serizawa's research lab to fewer than 10. The FBI says hundreds of Cleveland Clinic research vials were taken.

The maximum penalty for providing false information to the government is five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Under federal sentencing guidelines, Serizawa received a lighter sentence largely because he had no criminal record and he cooperated with the ongoing investigation.

That cooperation has included monitored telephone calls between Okamoto and Serizawa, said Serizawa's lawyer, John McCaffrey.

Assistant U.S. Atty. Christian Stickan said Serizawa continued to cooperate with authorities and recently testified before a grand jury. Stickan would not provide details.

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