Ford, FBI investigating former engineer for possible espionage



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Detroit -- A longtime engineer recently fired by Ford Motor Co. is being investigated for possible espionage by the company and FBI after the discovery of listening devices installed at the company's headquarters in Dearborn, Mich.

A lawyer for the mechanical engineer told the The Detroit News, which reported the probe earlier today, that officials in charge of security at Ford feared the engineer was stealing trade secrets by hiding and using recording devices in conference rooms.

The News, citing a copy of one of the search warrants used to search Ford's headquarters, identified the former engineer as Sharon Leach, 43, of Wyandotte, Mich.

The FBI searched Leach’s home on June 20 and seized more than two dozen items, the paper said.

Seized from the residence, according to documents filed by the FBI with the district court, were four laptop computers and a desktop computer, along with three USB drives, financial records, some documents from Leach's employer and one T-Mobile Google telephone.

A third warrant was served to Google Inc., asking for records of Leach's email account including emails sent to and from her account as well as drafts of emails and deleted information associated with the email account but still available to Google, according to court documents.

According to a search warrant filed Friday in federal court in Detroit, the FBI seized Leach’s Gmail account, including all emails, drafts, photos, phone numbers, contacts and bank accounts tied to the account.

Google supplied several items, including a video disk marked as a reply to the search warrant and a cover letter, according to court documents. Google sent the items by overnight delivery on Wednesday, court documents show.

However, the court documents did not show the contents of the disk or other information supplied by Google.

The FBI searched Ford’s world headquarters on July 11 and obtained eight Sansa listening devices, agency spokesman David Porter said today, citing a list of inventory.
 
The agency also obtained computers and financial records, the News reported, citing a copy of a search warrant it obtained on Thursday.
 
Ford, in a statement today, said the FBI obtained a search warrant for the company's offices but that Ford officials provided the agency with all requested materials and information.

"Ford initiated an investigation of a now former employee and requested the assistance of the FBI. Ford’s offices were not searched by the agency," said Susan Krusel, a company spokeswoman. "Ford voluntarily provided the information and items requested in the search warrant. We continue to work in cooperation with the FBI on this joint investigation. As this is an ongoing investigation, we are not able to provide additional details."

Court records that would explain why the FBI had probable cause to search Ford and the engineer’s home are sealed in federal court, the News said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Tukel, the government’s lawyer assigned to the case, heads the National Security Unit in Detroit and specializes in espionage, counter-terrorism and terrorism financing.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to comment, the News said.

Krusel told the News that Ford is not a target of the investigation.

Leach has not been charged with a crime and declined to comment, the paper said. She had been employed at Ford for about 17 years.

Leach was terminated in June after Ford’s security team discovered recording devices planted in the company’s meeting rooms, her lawyer Marshall Tauber said.

Tauber, an attorney in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., declined to comment today when contacted by Automotive News.

“She has done nothing wrong nor been accused of doing anything wrong,” Tauber told the News.

Leach acknowledged hiding recording devices under tables to help her transcribe meetings, her lawyer said.

“It didn’t involve anything of a spying nature,” Tauber told the News. “She wanted to record conversations of meetings she attended but didn’t know how to do it. She was insecure about her note-taking.”

Leach did not intend to share the recordings with anyone and erased the files after listening to the audio and revising her notes, Tauber said, according to the News.

David Phillips and Kathleen Burke contributed to this report.

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