Temple physics professor defends lawsuit against FBI agent

Xiaoxing Xi, a physics professor, is fighting the final count in a 2017 lawsuit against the United States.

Xiaoxing Xi, a Temple physics professor, teaches an introductory physics class in Wachman Hall on Oct. 31, 2019 | JEREMY ELVAS / FILE

Xiaoxing Xi, a Temple University physics professor, defended his appeal against wire fraud charges served to him in May 2015 during a hearing on Wednesday at 11 a.m. in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. Xi asked the federal appeals court to reinstate a lawsuit he filed against the United States government in May 2017. 

Xi was arrested by the FBI and charged with four counts of wire fraud in May 2015 for allegedly sharing technology for a pocket heater with Superconductor Technologies Inc., a Texas superconductivity technology company, with entities in China. The charges against Xi were dropped in September 2015 after he and his attorneys produced evidence showing that the information shared with the entities was legal. 

Xi filed an appeal in 2017 against the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, claiming that during the investigation, FBI agents racially and ethnically profiled Xi and committed unlawful searches and seizures. The lawsuit led to nine of the 10 counts being dismissed in March 2021. 

Represented by The American Civil Liberties Union and the civil rights law firm Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing, Feinberg & Lin LLP, Xi is now fighting the final count, regarding FBI agents allegedly surveilling Xi’s communications without a warrant. 

Xi’s team argued that the FBI agents knew prior to Xi’s arrest that his communications with entities in China were legal. The lawsuit also states that FBI Agent Andrew Haugen knew the technology blueprints sent to China were legal, but still arrested Xi. 

During Wednesday’s hearing, David Rudovsky, one of Xi’s attorneys, argued that the case against Xi violated the Federal Tort Claims Act, an act barring wrongful acts or omission of imperative evidence. Xi’s team also alleged that his Fourth Amendment rights were violated, stating that the claims against Xi were not sufficient enough for search and seizure. 

Xi’s attorneys provided evidence that Haugen was previously advised by the inventor of the pocket heater that the emails sent to the Chinese entities were of Xi’s own creation. The inventor, not named in the case, previously sold the blueprint to Xi. 

“When the agent knows for sure, ‘I’ve got nothing’ and proceeds anyway, and that agent is part of a unit that’s looking specifically at Asian Americans,” Rudovsky said “There was a risk under strict scrutiny right?” 

The United States Department of Justice, representing Haugen, claimed that the inventor and owner of the patent transferred ownership to a different company, which made Xi sign a non-disclosure agreement. 

“This case is part of a larger pattern,” said Patrick Toomey, deputy director of the ACLU’s national security project, at a briefing on Monday. “It belongs to a series of prosecutions over the past 10 years in which the US government has wrongly profiled and criminally charged decorated Asian American scientists.” 

The lawsuit calls for government accountability for the damage caused to Xi and his family, Toomey said.  

After the arrest in May 2015, Xi was temporarily suspended from his position as the interim chair of Temple’s physics department until the charges against him were dropped in September 2015. 

Temple did not respond to The Temple News’ request for comment about Wednesday’s hearing. 

“This case is part of a larger pattern,” Toomey said. “It belongs to a series of prosecutions over the past 10 years in which the US government has wrongly profiled and criminally charged decorated Asian American scientists.” 

After the hearing, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit will take the case under submission with a decision presented between four months and a year. 

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