Computer whiz gets 3 years for stealing from Illinois’ richest man

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A brilliant, young hedge fund worker who stole trade secrets from Citadel LLC was on Thursday sentenced to three years in prison by a federal judge who told him he’d been “naive.”

Yihao “Ben” Pu, was just 23 when he illegally downloaded information about algorithms developed for use in high-frequency trading by Citadel, the hedge fund and financial services firm founded by billionaire Ken Griffin, Illinois’ richest man.

Now 27 and working as a computer science teacher, Pu apologized in court Thursday to U.S. District Judge Charles Norgle, telling the judge he’d been “wrong” to steal.

“The errors that brought me here today are the most regrettable actions of my life,” he said.

Prosecutor Patrick Otlewski said Pu was guilty of “arrogance, greed and entitlement” and argued he deserved at least seven years in prison.

But Pu’s lawyer said he never made a dime from the stolen algorithms and data, which were worth an estimated $12 million. Pu was guilty only of being “an immature young man,” attorney Carolyn Garland said.

Norgle said that though Pu’s computer skills were sophisticated, he was “less sophisticated in the business world.” In addition to the prison time, he ordered Pu to pay Citadel $759,000 in restitution for the costs of investigating him.

Pu’s pal and former co-worker, Sonny Uppal, 26, was sentenced later Thursday to three years of probation for attempting to cover up the theft.

When he learned in 2011 that his bosses had questioned Pu, Uppal stashed computer hard drives, computer cables, and monitors into a suitcase and carried them from Pu’s apartment into his car.

Some of the equipment was later recovered by divers from a canal near Wilmette Harbor.

Prosecutors wanted Uppal to serve at least a year in prison, but Norgle spared him after Uppal made a lengthy and self-flagellating speech in which he criticized himself for “dehumanizing” the hedge fund.

“I was cocky and naive,” he said. “I’ve lost my self-respect.”

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