Listening devices at Ford HQ; fired employee suspected

Listening devices found at Ford HQ; recently fired engineer investigated (Detroit News)

The FBI searched Ford Motor Co.’s world headquarters while investigating one of the automaker’s engineers and seized listening devices, computers and financial records, according to search warrants obtained by The News on Thursday.

A lawyer for the mechanical engineer said Ford’s security team feared she was stealing trade secrets by hiding secret recording devices in conference rooms at the Dearborn automaker’s headquarters, nicknamed the Glass House. . .

. . . The search warrants show the FBI searched Ford’s headquarters July 11 and agents had permission to search the entire facility. Agents were authorized to seize digital and electronic recording devices given to Ford representatives by Wyandotte resident and former Ford engineer Sharon Leach, emails and other records, according to a copy of one search warrant.
The search at Ford’s headquarters came three weeks after FBI agents raided Leach’s home on St. John Street and seized more than two dozen items, according to a search warrant inventory obtained by The News.

Leach, who has not been charged with a crime, declined comment Thursday after opening the front door of her yellow, two-story colonial.

“I’m not gonna talk,” said Leach, 43. “I’m a private person.”

Until recently, Leach was a mechanical engineer with a doctorate at Ford, where she had been employed for about 17 years. In April, she was included on a panel of experts talking about hybrid vehicle performance at the 2014 SAE World Congress at Cobo Center.

She was fired recently after Ford’s security team discovered recording devices planted in the automaker’s meeting rooms, her lawyer Marshall Tauber said. . . .

FBI ramps up probe of fired Ford engineer, seizes emails (Detroit News)

The FBI ramped up its investigation of a fired Ford Motor Co. engineer Friday, revealing agents have seized her personal email account after searching her Wyandotte home and taking secret listening devices planted inside the automaker’s headquarters.

A search warrant filed Friday in federal court shows the FBI seized Sharon Leach’s Gmail account, including all emails, drafts, photos, phone numbers, contacts and bank accounts tied to the account. Google provided the information Wednesday. . .

. . . . The industry has suffered tens of million of dollars in losses in recent years due to stolen technology. In all, economic espionage costs the government and companies $400 billion a year or more, according to estimates in a 2011 report to Congress.

A review of court filings shows the government has successfully prosecuted several insiders locally in recent years, and automakers have pushed for maximum sentences.

R. Mark Halligan, partner at Chicago-based Nixon Peabody LLP law firm and a trade secret law expert, said the automotive industry takes the theft of trade secrets seriously but handles them no differently than any company.

“It’s an industry that has a lot of technology and is a profitable business,” he said Friday. “There’s nothing that’s any different than an airline, manufacturing, or any sort of industrial company. If you’re an industry that’s making money, you’re susceptible.”

He said the number of trade secret theft cases has increased with advances in technology.

“Since we’ve been in the computer age, you can take the entire company, first on a floppy disk, then on a CD … and now you can move things into the cloud,” he said. “The ease with which information can be stolen has resulted in a lot of these cases.” . . .

FBI investigating ex-Ford engineer after listening devices found in meeting rooms (Reuters)


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