Monday, February 3, 2014

Another chemist falls victim to MICE

From Marc Reisch (who seems to be C&EN's IP crime reporter), a sad look at an older chemist: 
A chemist who admitted he stole more than 100 confidential silicone formulas from Wacker Chemical and then sold many to a South Korean competitor is going to federal prison for two years. 
The attorney for the 62-year-old chemist, Michael Agoda, argued before his Jan. 16 sentencing that Agoda should receive probation because he provided Wacker formulas to KCC Silicone “in the scientific spirit of sharing information.” 
However, the complaint against Agoda, filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, paints a different picture. According to the document, KCC paid Agoda $132,621 between March 2010 and January 2012. Agoda made 12 trips to South Korea paid for by KCC. Wacker figures it lost about $15.5 million because of Agoda’s actions. 
Agoda worked at Wacker’s Adrian, Mich., facility for 20 years until 1997. He was employed by Laur Silicone, a formulator in Beaverton, Mich., when he started selling Wacker formulas to KCC, court documents say. 
Agoda resigned from Laur in June 2011 to work full-time for KCC. Then, Laur’s information technology administrator reviewed Agoda’s e-mail account and discovered evidence that he had been selling Wacker trade secrets. The firm reported the activity to Wacker, which in turn informed the FBI....
I am terribly interested to find out more about Michael Agoda's background, but I note that there isn't a lot of other media coverage about this issue. Questions that I have include:
  • Why did he sell the formulas now? 
  • How did he leave the employ of Wacker? 
  • How long did he sell the formulas? 
One of the things that I find most interesting about these sorts of cases is how little money can be gained through the selling of secrets. If Mr. (Dr.?) Agoda had been asked, would you trade two years in federal prison for $130,000, I suspect he would have said "No." Another MICE case, chalked up to Money, I wager.

UPDATE: A commenter provides a link to a Rubber News article which is much more forthcoming about Mr. Agodoa's background:
According to a criminal complaint filed in the Michigan court in April 2012, Agodoa, a native of Ghana, joined the former Stauffer Chemical Co. as a plant chemist in 1977. In 1987, Wacker purchased a controlling interest in Stauffer and changed the company's name. 
Agodoa continued with Wacker until July 1997, rising to the position of technical manager and leaving to accept a job with Jamak Fabrications, the complaint said. 
Between 1991 and 1996 alone, Agodoa signed some 78 formula and manufacturing instruction sheets that were clearly marked as confidential, according to the complaint. He was disciplined in 1994 for giving chemical samples to visitors to the Wacker plant—a willful violation of company policy and a potential violation of federal law, the complaint said. 
By 2011, Agodoa was a senior scientist at Laur Silicone Inc. In June of that year, according to the complaint, he tendered his resignation, saying he had accepted a consulting job with KCC Silicones and also that he was helping a South Korean firm develop the oil reserves found at a town in Ghana. 
However, in a routine system and password change after Agodoa's resignation, Laur discovered in a search of Agodoa's email records that he in fact had been selling Wacker's trade secrets to KCC Silicones.
Thanks to Anon for the added details.... 

15 comments:

  1. 2nd law of thermodynamics...

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  2. Apparently he also spells his last name as 'Agodoa'.

    Here's another article, from Rubber News, with more details of the case:
    http://www.rubbernews.com/article/20140120/NEWS/140129987/ex-wacker-engineer-pleads-guilty-to-stealing-trade-secrets#

    He also has a LinkedIn profile: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/michael-agodoa/57/174/70

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  3. people like this should be tried as spies

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  4. "in the scientific spirit of sharing information.” Any evidence that the attorney kept a straight face while say this? I know I couldn't hold it together. Maybe that's what plagiarists should use as an excuse - the scientific spirit of sharing information.

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  5. "If Mr. (Dr.?) Agoda had been asked, would you trade two years in federal prison for $130,000, I suspect he would have said "No." "

    Yeah, he would have. But I make much less than 132 divided by two these days. Plus he's only two to three years away from potential retirement. If I was 63 and someone gave me 130K to go to jail for two years, and I don't have to pay taxes on this money plus in jail your expenses are not too big, I would only agree if the jail was in South Korea so that I could learn a new language as well. At 63 I imagine the other inmates leave you alone more or less as well.

    But I probably wouldn't sell Wacker's secrets as I like to think I would be more ethical than that. It would have to be a straight up swap of cash for jail time without me committing any crime.

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    Replies
    1. ... suddenly had a mental image of Scared Straight except everyone's yelling at you in Korean...

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    2. From your link:

      "A 2002 meta-analysis (a study that combines the results of many studies in order to see the whole picture) of the results of a number of scared straight and similar programs found that they actively increased crime rates, leading to higher reoffence rates than in control groups that did not receive the intervention.[7]"

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    3. Meta-analysis don't mean nothing if you don't remember a lot of scary-looking minority convicts yelling at kids to "give me your shoes! don't look at me! did i give you permission to look at me?"

      Dammit youtube, why can't i find a good clip? :(

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  6. Unless I'm misreading this, it sounds like he used his company email account to sell their secrets? Surely if you're going to embark on something like this the first thing you do is hide it from your company?

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    Replies
    1. It was done in the scientific spirit of sharing information, as the lawyer said.

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    2. Exactly. My thought when reading this post were: If you are not completely stupid, you might get away with something like this.

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  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  8. Is it legal to read employees' emails?

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    Replies
    1. Yes. The communications are the property of the company. Strictly speaking, anything that happens on the company equipment (desktop or servers) is the property of the company.

      In fact, it is required by law that email communication be recorded in some instance. It's how companies like Merck get into trouble. See http://www.reportingonhealth.org/2012/12/03/internal-merck-emails-revealed.

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