Trade-secret theft charged in Detroit

July 06, 2006|By THE DETROIT NEWS

DETROIT -- The U.S. attorney in Detroit yesterday announced charges of stealing trade secrets against three former employees of an auto supplier, saying economic espionage stabs at the heart of the Michigan economy and is a growing priority among his federal prosecutors.

The former employees of Metaldyne Corp., arraigned in U.S. District Court after a 64-count grand jury indictment was unsealed, are accused of stealing the Plymouth, Mich., company's trade secrets and sharing them with Chinese competitors. They each face up to 20 years in prison and fines of up to $250,000 if convicted.

"We have sent a message to those in the community who would be thinking about participating in the theft of trade secrets," said Daniel Roberts, special agent in charge of the FBI's Detroit office.

Anne Lockwood, 53, Metaldyne's former vice president of sales; her husband, Michael Haehnel, 51, who was a senior engineer at the company; and Fuping Liu, 42, a metallurgist who worked for Metaldyne and GKN Sinter Metals of Auburn Hills, Mich., are charged with conspiracy, wire fraud, theft of trade secrets and other crimes.

The indictment alleges they breached confidentiality agreements and shared with Chinese companies Metaldyne's and GKN's secrets on how to manufacture auto parts and other manufactured parts from powdered metals.

The three were to receive commissions based on the sales the Chinese companies received by using the trade secrets, the indictment alleges.

Not-guilty pleas were entered at their arraignments yesterday, and lawyers for Lockwood, Haehnel and Liu said the charges are false. All three were released on bond.

Metaldyne officials would not place a dollar value on the alleged theft, but officials said it is the biggest case the Detroit office has brought to date under the U.S. Economic Espionage Act of 1996.

Lockwood and Liu initially had been charged last year under a federal complaint. Haehnel had not been charged.

Metaldyne, which has 45 plants in 14 countries, makes a wide range of auto parts for engines, drivetrains and chassis systems. The company has annual sales of $2 billion and about 6,500 employees.

Tina Kozak, a spokeswoman for Metaldyne, would not say how much the alleged theft cost the company.

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