A Victim of "Gross Injustice"
Xiafen "Sherry" Chen is a naturalized U.S. citizen from Beijing, China. She is an award-winning hydrologist at the National Weather Service. After working for the Missouri State government for over 11 years, she joined the Ohio River Forecast Center (OHRFC) in Wilmington, Ohio.
Sherry Chen’s primary work was to develop river forecast models relating to the Ohio River and its tributaries. Floods are caused by uncontrollable, natural factors such as the amount of rainfall over a sustained period of time. Humans build locks, dams, and levees to minimize the impacts of flood. Mathematical models are developed and validated by data to help predict and measure the magnitude of floods to prevent the loss of lives and properties.
Sherry Chen and her team received the 2011 National Weather Association Larry R. Johnson Special Award “for development of and operational success with the Ohio River Community HEC-RAS Model during May 2011 Ohio and Mississippi River flooding." Her work saves American lives and properties.
However, an informant at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reported Sherry Chen to the Office of Security, identifying Sherry as a "U.S. citizen, but a Chinese National" in 2012. Subsequently, the Department of Commerce (DOC) security agents submitted a misleading "Report of Investigation," which was later found to have concealed or altered important exculpatory evidence.
Sherry Chen was arrested in her office in October 2014. She was charged with 4 counts, carrying a maximum of 25 years in prison and a $1 million fine. The charges were later doubled when Ms. Chen maintained her innocence and refused to make plea agreements.
The U.S. government alleged that Sherry Chen accessed the National Inventory of Dams database without proper authority and lied to federal investigators. However, Sherry Chen had proper authority to access the database and was transparent with the investigators at all times. Sherry Chen never gave any proprietary information to anyone.
Five months later, the government dropped all the charges against Sherry Chen in March 2015 without apology or explanation.
Sherry Chen's case received national attention. Forty-eight Members of Congress, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Asian American community organizations, scientific organizations and government watchdogs raised concerns of racial profiling and called for a full investigation of the Departments of Justice and Commerce. Major media - including CBS’s 60 Minutes, Huffington Post, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post - have also covered Sherry Chen’s case for more than three years.
Asian Americans are concerned that in recent years, innocent Chinese American scientists in academia, government and private industry have been similarly charged with espionage-related crimes, and then seen those charges dropped or reduced to minor, unrelated infractions.
Despite the dismissal of the criminal case, DOC proceeded to terminate Sherry Chen's employment in March 2016 instead of reinstating her to her position and reviewing the mistakes it made in the criminal case.
Ms. Chen filed an appeal of the termination of her employment with the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB). A hearing was held in Cincinnati, Ohio in March 2017 with dozens of individuals appearing in freezing temperature to show their support for Sherry Chen.
After 13 months of deliberations, Judge Michele Szary Schroeder issued a 135-page blockbuster decision overwhelmingly in favor of Sherry Chen, agreeing that she was a victim of "gross injustice."
In a point-by-point rebuttal, Judge Schroeder attributed the egregious conduct and corrupt actions by the top DOC officials to a potential combination of embarrassment, prejudice, and incompetence, and mishandled Sherry Chen's case at multiple levels of the department.
On May 23, 2018, a "Stand with Sherry Chen" press conference was held on Capitol Hill. Sherry Chen expressed her determination to continue her quest for justice. Members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC), including Chair Rep. Judy Chu, and Representatives Ted Lieu, Grace Meng and Raja Krishnamoorthi, spoke on the need for justice and accountability in the Sherry Chen case. Dr. Xiaoxing Xi, physics professor at Temple University who was also wrongfully targeted for prosecution in a separate case, traveled from Philadelphia to lend his support.
During the press conference, CAPAC released a letter signed by 31 members of Congress requesting the Commerce Inspector General to conduct an independent investigation into the mishandling of Ms. Chen’s case. Asian American community organizations also released a letter, signed by 132 national and local groups, calling on Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to reinstate Ms. Chen and facilitate the probe.
Despite the calls from CAPAC and the community organizations, DOC filed an appeal to the MSPB decision on June 18. Sherry Chen and her attorney filed their rebuttal and cross appeals on August 3. Arguments for the appeal and cross appeal were completed on August 28, 2018.
The appeal and the cross appeal are now pending in MSPB, which has lacked a quorum to process the appeals since January 2017. Three individuals were nominated by the White House in 2018, but were not confirmed by the Senate. There is reportedly a backlog of over 1,600 appeal cases in MSPB at this time.
On January 18, 2019, Sherry Chen filed a civil lawsuit against the U.S. government for malicious prosecution and false arrest under the Federal Tort Claims Act. The case, 1:19-cv-00045-TSB, is pending in the U.S. District Court for Southern Ohio.
Current State of Lawsuit
Case 1:19-cv-00045-TSB: Xiafeng "Sherry" Chen vs Deborah Lee, Andrew Lieberman, Mike Benedict, George Lee, Renee Desrosiers, and John Doe of U.S. Government
CBS 60 Minutes
2018/08/26 CBS 60 Minutes: U.S. fight against Chinese espionage ensnares innocent Americans
2016/05/15 CBS 60 Minutes: Collateral Damage
New York Times Editorial
2015/09/15 New York Times: The Rush to Find China’s Moles
For More Information
Visit the Sherry Chen Legal Defense Fund website to learn more about the Sherry Chen case and the latest developments.
6 Years and Counting - Persecution of Sherry Chen
Links and References
2019/07/15 Inside Higher Ed: Attacking Chinese on Our Campuses Only Hurts America
2019/01/22 Sherry Chen Legal Defense Fund: Sherry Chen filed suit for malicious prosecution and false arrest against the government
2018/06/18 United Chinese Americans: UCA Statement on DOC Appeal Decision Against Sherry Chen
2018/06/18 Sherry Chen: Statement in Response to Department of Commerce Filing Appeal
2018/06/08 Newsy: Falsely Accused Of Spying, These Americans Still Deal With The Impacts
2018/06/05 Sherry Chen Legal Defense Fund: Supplemental Requests to Department of Commerce Inspector General
2018/05/29 Committee of 100: Determined Sherry Chen Continues Quest for Justice
2018/05/23 Community Letter from 132 organizations to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross
2018/05/23 CAPAC: Joint Congressional letter by 31 Members to Department od Commerce Inspector General
2018/05/17 New York Times: Cleared of Spying for China, She Still Doesn’t Have Her Job Back
2018/04/29 Wall Street Journal: Judge Orders Commerce Department to Reinstate Chinese-American Hydrologist
2018/04/23 MSPB: Xiafen Chen v Department of Commerce Initial Decision Docket Number CH-0752-17-0028-I-1
2017/03/14 WCPO-9 ABC Cincinnati: Ohio scientist accused of spying wants her job back
2017/03/14 NBC News: Government Scientist Fired After Dropped Spying Charges Petitions for Reinstatement
2016/07/15 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights: Calling DOJ IG to Conduct Independent Investigation
2016/06/21 NCAPA: Coalition Letter Calling for DOJ IG Independent Investigation
2016/05/15 Wall Street Journal: Fired Worker Files Complaint After Spy Case Dropped
2016/05/14 Huffington Post: Racial Profiling: Doing Science While Asian American
2016/05/13 CAPAC: CAPAC Members Demand Independent Investigation Into Cases Targeting Asian Americans
2016/01/08 Online petition: We Want An Independent Investigation
2015/12/04 Delaware Congressional Delegation: Letter to the Attorney General
2015/11/23 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights: Letter to the Attorney General
2015/11/17 CAPAC: CAPAC Joins Wrongly Accused Asian American Scientists to Call for Accountability from DOJ and an End to Profiling
2015/11/16 NCAPA: 70+ Asian Pacific American, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties Organizations Urge U.S. Attorney General to Investigate Possible Profiling of Asian American Scientists
2015/11/05 CAPAC: Joint Congressional letter by 42 members to Attorney General requesting Investigation into Wrongful Indictments Against Asian Americans for Alleged Espionage
2015/09/28 The Hill: Not all Chinese are economic spies
2015/09/22 Committee of 100: C100 Member Brian Sun Hosts Economic Espionage and Trade Secrets Seminar with Chinese American Scientists Xiaoxing Xi and Sherry Chen
2015/09/08 Committee of 100: C100 and Partners Issue Letter to the U.S. Attorney General
2015/09/04 Joint Community Letter to Attorney General in support of Congressional Inquiry on Profiling
2015/05/22 Committee of 100: The Committee of 100 Supports Congressional Inquiries Related to the Sherry Chen Case
2015/05/21 CAPAC: Joint Congressional letter by 22 Members to Attorney General
2015/05/12 Washington Post: Falsely accused of spying, Weather Service employee’s life turned upside down
2015/05/09 New York Times: Accused of Spying for China, Until She Wasn’t
2015/03/10 Wall Street Journal: Government Drops Charges Against Federal Employee