Ohio scientist accused of spying wants her job back

Feds dropped case against Sherry Chen
Posted at 5:10 PM, Mar 14, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-15 10:01:52-04

CINCINNATI -- A scientist dismissed from her job with the National Weather Service amid accusations of espionage wants her job back.

Sherry Chen was never convicted. In fact, she was never prosecuted: The U.S. Attorney's Office dropped the charges.

But the hydrologist still lost her government job. Now a two-day hearing is underway to determine if Chen, a naturalized American citizen born in China, should get that job back.

"My life has been turned upside down, not once but twice," Chen said. "I really lost everything."

Her world started to unravel in 2014, The New York Times reported, when six FBI agents arrested her at workplace in Wilmington, Ohio. They accused her "of using a stolen password to download information about the nation's dams and of lying about meeting with a high-ranking Chinese official," The Times reported.

At the request of a family member, Chen had spoken to an official in China about a local water issue. During that meeting, the official asked her how the United States funded infrastructure projects. Once she got back to Ohio, her efforts to answer that question raised suspicion, ending in her arrest.

But just five months later, prosecutors dropped the charges without explanation. In those few months, Chen had been suspended without pay, and family in China worked to help cover her legal costs. She ultimately lost her job.

The Ohio Chinese American Association organized a rally Tuesday in downtown Cincinnati, where Chen was arguing to the Federal Merit Systems Protection Board against her termination. Supporters argue Chen's arrest and dismissal were racially motivated.

"We feel that the treatment she received from (the government) is wrong, and that this can happen to any American that have been wrongfully charged for offense, and then it was dropped with no explanation or apology," West Chester Township Trustee Lee Wong said.

Chen will continue to argue her case Wednesday. Supporters said they, too, will be back out to rally for her.