US attorney to drop charges against hydrologist accused of hacking into federal database

A National Weather Service employee accused of illegally accessing a restricted federal computer database containing information about the nation's dams, stealing information and lying to federal investigators will have charges against her dismissed if a judge approves the prosecution's request.

Prosecutors filed the motion Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Dayton to dismiss charges against Xiafen "Sherry" Chen just days before her trial is scheduled to start on Monday.

A statement by prosecutors said only that they were exercising "prosecutorial discretion" and were unable to comment further.

Chen's attorney, Peter Zeidenberg, said the Wilmington hydrologist was "overjoyed."

Chen, 59, was indicted in October and pleaded not guilty to charges of illegally accessing a U.S. government computer database, theft of U.S. government property and making materially false statements to federal agents.

Zeidenberg said he met with prosecutors Monday, telling them why he thought the case should be dismissed. He said he was surprised and grateful that they agreed.

Chen was accused of illegally accessing the restricted area of the database and downloading sensitive files from the National Inventory of Dams, prosecutors had said in court documents. The inventory maintained and controlled by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the National Dam Safety Review Board includes information on about 87,000 dams.

Prosecutors had said Chen illegally accessed restricted information after meeting with a former Chinese colleague on a visit to family in the People's Republic of China in 2012. But she was not charged with providing restricted data to anyone.

The defense said Chen had legitimate reasons to be on the website because of her job and never gave restricted information to anyone.

Chen has been on non-duty, non-paid status with the weather service. A message was left Tuesday seeking comment from the weather service's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration parent agency.