Former Boston Scientific Corp. engineer Aaron Q. Khieu, 44, will likely spend about 10 months in federal prison camp for stealing secret engineering plans worth $4.3 million from the medical-device maker’s Maple Grove offices.
The prison sentence, announced in federal court in Minneapolis on Wednesday, was much less than the five to six years in prison that prosecutors initially sought in court filings. Sentencing guidelines, based on rulings announced in open court Wednesday, had recommended at least three years in prison.
In April, Khieu pleaded guilty to theft of trade secrets after acknowledging that he downloaded secret plans for a new medical device called the Mustang Plus to a thumb drive in 2012. He also traveled to Vietnam to try to set up a manufacturing plant for his own version of the device, and pitched the plan to potential investors in Minnetonka and via e-mail about manufacturing that incorporated stolen design elements.
Khieu never secured any investors, nor produced one device. His lawyer called Khieu’s scheme a “pipe dream” and asked for a sentence that included no prison time.
In a tearful delivery, Khieu apologized for his actions while several of his family members sat behind him in the public gallery. He called the theft “the biggest mistake of my life.”
U.S. District Judge Patrick J. Schiltz said although Khieu did “a very bad thing,” his theft of the design for a new model of balloon catheter to unblock blood vessels in the legs didn’t actually cause Boston Scientific to lose a penny of profit. Court records say the company sells products using the Mustang Plus research, and is in fact a world leader in the technology.
His below-guideline prison sentence balances the need for deterrence in a state filled with medical device companies against the low probability that Khieu himself would ever reoffend, Schiltz said.
“Given Mr. Khieu’s background, character and age, I feel it is almost certain that he will never commit another crime,” Schiltz said in court. But the judge noted, “I cannot agree with Mr. Khieu that he should serve no time in prison.”
Schiltz sentenced Khieu to one year and one day in prison, which would make him eligible to be released after about 10 months’ time with good behavior. He recommended Khieu be sent to minimum-security federal prison camp in Duluth, where he will self-report for incarceration Feb. 1.
He was also ordered to serve a year of supervised release and to complete 100 hours of community service, plus 20 hours a week extra if he can’t find a job upon release. He’s been working as an Uber driver and manager of a family dental practice since his initial arrest last year.
“Obviously we’re disappointed we didn’t get probation, but I think the judge was fair,” defense attorney Robert Sicoli said after the sentencing hearing Wednesday morning.
Boston Scientific declined to comment on the case. Prosecutors said it was the company that told authorities about the theft of the documents. The plans Khieu stole were among the “crown jewels” of the company’s intellectual property, because they were advancements on a device for which the company is a global sales leader.