A senior scientist of Frontier Scientific Inc. of North Logan has been accused of stealing proprietary information and sending it to a foreign company in what the FBI says is a rare case of industrial espionage.
According to a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City on Nov. 10, Prabhu Mohapatra, 42, of North Logan, used his company computer to send the "recipes" for four different chemical compounds to Medchemblox in India. He was arrested Nov. 14 and is scheduled to be arraigned in federal court Dec. 8.
The Associated Press reported Tuesday that Mohapatra's public defender, Viviana Ramirez, said he will plead not guilty to the charge. If found guilty, he could spend up to 10 years in prison and be fined $250,000.
An investigation by the FBI showed Mohapatra's brother-in-law as one of the co-founders of Medchemblox - a business that was not yet registered but did have an existing website.
A special agent with the bureau said Mohapatra's activity was first observed by a co-worker, who on Oct. 25 saw him place the recipe of a chemical compound into a Word document, convert it into a PDF document and send it by attachment via his personal email account.
FSI is the only company in the world that can produce this compound, listed as "2,2'-dipyrromethane," in large quantities. Since May 2008, the company has made 12 batches of the compound at a production cost of $59,059.15, according to the complaint.
The complaint details that an analysis of Mohapatra's company computer shows he sent a total of four recipes to the president of Medchemblox, deleting the files from computers each time. The hard drives on his personal computers and devices have been analyzed, but the data have not yet been reviewed.
Mohapatra was employed with FSI from October 2009 to Nov. 1 of this year. He was in the United States with his wife and two children on a green card, according to the criminal complaint.
As part of his employment, he was reportedly required to sign a confidentiality agreement, in which he agreed he "will not at any time, in any fashion, form or manner or directly or indirectly, use for himself, divulge, disclose or communicate to any person, firm or corporation any such knowledge or proprietary information ... without the prior consent of the company."
The complaint quotes an email Mohapatra allegedly sent to one of his bosses, saying, "I realize I may have done something wrong ... Even if you lay off me or put me in jail I will not do anything to hurt FSI. I will keep out all together for myself of Frontier's business." He later said he was withdrawing involvement with Medchemblox.
FBI spokeswoman Debbie Dujanovic said the Economic Espionage Act of 1996 gives the bureau the ability to investigate and prosecute cases of information theft in which secret trade information is released for the purpose of providing economic benefit to another individual or business.
Cases like these are not only harmful to the company who owns the information, but can also create a hardship to the company that then affects the employees and even stock prices, she said.
"We believe this is the first case of its kind in Utah," said Dujanovic. "We want to make sure that other Utah companies recognize that this is not something that just happens to large companies."
One provision of the act requires that companies take precautions to protect trade secrets in order for the FBI to investigate allegations of theft.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Frontier Scientific's chief executive, Tim Miller, said Frontier Scientific is the only company that can make large, pure quantities of the chemical 2,2'-dipyrromethane.
"Our knowledge in making these chemicals is really our value," Miller told the AP.
Dujanovic said companies who would like more information about how to protect themselves from this type of crime can call 801-579-1400 or visit www.fbi.gov and search for topics under trade secrets or economic espionage.