A researcher who worked at Indiana-based Dow AgroSciences LLC and Minneapolis-based Cargill Inc. has pleaded guilty to one count of economic espionage to benefit China and another count of trade theft.

China-born Kexue Huang pleaded guilty to the charges Tuesday before the U.S. District Court in Indianapolis, according to a U.S. Department of Justice statement. Huang was charged in July 2010 for misappropriating and transporting trade secrets to China while working as a scientist at Dow. A separate indictment filed in Minnesota also charged Huang with stealing a trade secret from agro-sciences company Cargill. 

Huang admitted that during his employment at Dow from 2003 until 2008, he misappropriated several company trade secrets and from 2007 to 2010 transferred the information to individuals in Germany and China. The information was later used to conduct unauthorized research to benefit Chinese universities with the aim of competing directly with Dow in the organic pesticides market, according to the DOJ statement.

Huang was later hired in 2008 by Cargill where he worked until 2009 as a biotechnologist. He admitted that during his employment with Cargill, he stole a trade secret relating to the manufacture of a new food product and delivered that material to a student at a Chinese university.

The plea agreement put the aggregated loss from Huang's criminal conduct in the range of $7 million to $20 million.

Huang faces up to 15 years in prison on the economic espionage charge and 10 years on the theft of trade secrets charge.