A former engineer and salesman for DuPont, Michael Mitchell, was recently sentenced to 18 months in prison after pleading guilty to stealing trade secrets and providing them to a Korean rival of DuPont.
According to the parties’ agreed statement of facts, during his final years at DuPont, Mitchell had become disgruntled, and he was eventually terminated for poor performance. Upon his termination, DuPont did all of the right things: it reminded Mitchell of the nondisclosure provisions of his employment contract; it demanded that he return any proprietary DuPont information; and it had him sign an employment termination statement affirming that he had done so.
Mitchell, in contrast, did all of the wrong things: he kept numerous DuPont computer files containing sensitive and proprietary information; he entered in to a consulting agreement with the rival Korean company and provided DuPont trade secrets to it; and, in what ultimately led to his downfall, he contacted current and retired DuPont employees to seek still other information desired by the Korean company, and some of them reported him to DuPont management. The end result was a federal search warrant, a forensic examination of Mitchell’s computers, Mitchell’s agreement to become a cooperating undercover witness and, now, his time behind bars.
While the moral of this story is that stealing trade secrets is a crime that does not pay, a secondary moral is that when the heist is big enough, call the FBI.