In 2011, Ashley Yablon started working his “dream job” as general counsel at Dallas-area telecommunications company ZTE USA.
But soon, the dream took a tragic turn and landed him in his worst nightmare.
“They (ZTE) were under investigation right when I started my dream job,” Yablon said. “They wanted me to lie to our government […] and wanted me to further a crime by shredding all documents and make me the fall guy.”
The documents pertained to ZTE buying products from United States component manufacturers and then “illegally selling them to embargoed countries like Iran, Iraq, Syria,” he said. “What I stumbled upon was a contract between ZTE and the country of Iran where they were selling hundreds of millions of dollars of spying technology.”
After giving the FBI a 32-page affidavit of what he observed at ZTE, the story leaked, and “my whole career was over,” he said.
In April, Brown Books published Yablon’s account of what happened.
The book’s title is Standing Up To China: How a Whistleblower Risked Everything for His Country, because the Chinese government runs ZTE, he explained. “I wasn’t standing up to ZTE; I was standing up to China.”
Some events described in his book happened in and around the Park Cities, such as when a Chinese person driving a 1960s yellow checkered taxi tailed his now ex-wife, who was walking the dog to Germany Park, Yablon said. She doubled back, running at “a full sprint, and the car is coming right behind her. She runs up the steps to the house, and the car zips off.”
Incidents like that and death threats sent Yablon into hiding.
Yablon said his lawyer told the FBI, “You’ve ruined Ashley’s life. […] They’re going to kill him. No one is ever going to hire Ashley because who wants this guy, the whistleblower who brought down a company?”
The FBI responded that he’d already be dead if this involved the Mexican or Russian mafia.
“I jumped up and said, ‘Is that supposed to make me feel better?’” Yablon said. “They awkwardly laughed and said, ‘No.’ That’s when they offered witness protection.”
Yablon said these circumstances took an enormous toll on him emotionally, physically, financially, and in his relationships.
“I can’t say the word ‘settlement,’ but I ended up resolving the issue with ZTE,” he said. “People think I must have made millions of dollars. No. I made just enough money to pay back all my lawyers and friends that I borrowed from and immediately had to go back to work.”
Yablon sees his story as a cautionary tale. “What the book is really about is standing up and doing the right thing in the face of losing everything,” he said.