Chief Investigative Reporter

Jeremy Finley is the News4 I-Team's Chief Investigative Reporter. He has won multiple Midsouth Emmy and Edward R. Murrow Awards.

A News4 I-Team investigation shows how spies from China are threatening the livelihood of an entire Middle Tennessee town.

The I-Team is revealing the threat from overseas that is being felt right here at home.

Nobody loves Denise Sayles' hamburgers more than the workers at the Chemours plant down the street.

"We do a delivery every day to them," she said. "That's 80 percent of our sales."

So, what would happen if those orders stopped because the plant was no longer in operation?

"It would probably shut down everybody around here," Sayles said.

A News4 I-Team investigation uncovered that a stolen secret from this company threatens the economic stability of this Tennessee town.

The culprit? Spies working for the People's Republic of China.

"It is an overt effort on the part of the Chinese government," said Craig Fair with the FBI.

The stolen secret? The color white, specifically how the color was perfected at Dupont plants, spun off in New Johnsonville to become Chemours.

The plant here is one of the few still making it - and for good reason. It's added to everything from Oreo cookies to paint.

The process to get that pure white is closely guarded, and the town's mayor should know. He used to work there.

"You will not give away any of their trade secrets," said Mayor David Cagle.

However, federal court records show spies working for China infiltrated a Dupont plant in Northern California, stealing the secrets of the process.

The endgame: Recreate the color in China and sell it cheaper.

The FBI calls it economic espionage - China's plan to infiltrate U.S. companies and steal secrets.

"It's an insidious and pervasive and persistent problem," Fair said.

It's a problem threatening companies from Silicon Valley to Humphreys County.

"Do you think the town would survive if the plant closed?" asked the News4 I-Team.

"It would survive, but it would be hard," Cagle said.

Copyright 2019 WSMV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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