WILMINGTON, Del. – A former NASA engineer who pleaded guilty to conspiracy in a copyright infringement scheme led by two Chinese nationals was sentenced to probation Wednesday.
U.S. District Judge Leonard Stark credited Cosburn Wedderburn, 40, for his substantial assistance to federal authorities investigating the website called "Crack 99," which sold pirated, industrial-level software in which the access control mechanisms had been "cracked," or circumvented.
"I'm not going to be incarcerating him," Stark said before sentencing Wedderburn to one year of probation and 100 hours of community service.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Ed McAndrew agreed that Wedderburn, of Windsor Mill, Md., did not deserve prison time and said Wedderburn now understands that software piracy is not a victimless crime.
"I think his prosecution sends a message," McAndrew told the judge. "I think the point has been made."
Authorities said Wedderburn made 12 purchases of pirated software, paying $1,800 for goods valued at more than $1 million from Xiang Li, a Chinese national who was sentenced in June to 12 years in prison.
Defense attorney Dennis Boyle said Wedderburn, who worked at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center and also ran his own computer engineering business on the side, did not try to profit from the pirated software but "just wanted to do his job better."
Before being sentenced, Wedderburn apologized to the government and to his family and said he was quick to cooperate with federal agents after his arrest.
"I'm sorry for what I've done. I don't want this lapse of judgment to define who I am," he said.
Earlier this year, Stark sentenced a former scientist for a Kentucky-based government contractor to a year and day in federal prison after he pleaded guilty to conspiracy in the software piracy scheme. Prosecutors said Wronald Best was one of the biggest U.S. customers of Xiang Li.
Authorities said Best, a former chief scientist for MPD Inc. in Owensboro, Ky., who once worked at the Naval Surface Warfare Center, used pirated software to work on several projects in which MPD was involved, including Patriot missile components and cathodes used in the weather radar systems of military helicopters.
Authorities last year charged Xiang Li and a co-defendant, Chun Yan Li, with conspiracy, copyright infringement, smuggling, wire fraud, interstate transportation of stolen goods and other crimes.
Xiang Li, 36, of Chengdu, China, pleaded guilty in January to conspiracy to commit copyright infringement and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. An attorney for Xiang Li said at that time that all remaining charges against his client as well as those against Chun Yan Li, who was still in China, would be dismissed as a result of the plea bargain.
Prosecutors said the defendants reproduced and distributed copyrighted software produced by more than 150 manufacturers before Xiang Li was arrested after traveling to Saipan in 2011 to meet with undercover agents posing as customers.