The Case of the $100 Million Blueprints
Kentucky mechanic named Jonathan Sanders
was looking for a way to market himself to
a recruiter for a rival technology company.
He found it, all right—in the trash.
In this company’s confidential waste
bin, to be exact.
And what exactly did he find? More
than 800 blueprints, the complete specs for
the innovative equipment his New York-based
business used to make LCD (liquid crystal
display) screens found on high-end TVs and
computer monitors. Turns out, the screens
manufactured by this company were considered
among the best in the industry…thanks
largely to the equipment housed in the plant
where Sanders worked. The company later estimated
the blueprints’ worth at $100 million.
Sanders knew he had something of value…so
criminally, he carted the blueprints home.
He’d already been contacted by a recruiter
from a start-up based overseas that wanted
to enter the glass-screen making business
and was hiring workers from his plant to
help get them started. After finding the
blueprints—a discovery he called “perfect
timing”—Sanders met with the
recruiter again and mentioned the designs.
Surprise, surprise: he was offered a job
on the spot for $125,000.
Sanders eventually decided he didn’t
want to move overseas. But he made the recruiter
a counter offer: he’d sell him the
blueprints for cash. Working through a middleman,
Sanders later sold them for two payments
How’d we catch him? The
overseas competitor began replicating the
equipment and eventually asked a manufacturer
in the U.S. to make a key part. The manufacturer
recognized the technology and contacted Sanders’ company,
which called the FBI.
Our subsequent investigation was slowed
at times by a civil case between the two
rival companies. Agents eventually interviewed
employees at Sanders’ plant…and
talked with Sanders in October 2005. He pled
guilty in January to one count of conspiracy
to commit trade secret theft and was sentenced
to four years in prison in April.
“When we interviewed him, Sanders
said he came to work every day wondering
if today would be the day he gets caught.
It finally was,” said Special Agent
Mark Thompson of our Buffalo, New York, field
office, who led the investigation.
So what’s the lesson?Protect
those trade secrets. Sanders’ company
was fortunate that the theft was discovered
before the competitor’s plant became
operational. “Stealing trade secrets
is worse than stealing money from a company.
It’s like robbing a company’s future,” Thompson
learn more about the multi-billion criminal enterprise of economic espionage
and how to protect your business from it, see our Counterintelligence