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Stealing DuPont's trade secrets lands Iowa man in prison for 3 years

He gave information to competitor, evidence shows

Department of Justice seal in the US Attorneys office at the federal courthouse in Cedar Rapids on Friday, Dec. 23, 2016. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Department of Justice seal in the US Attorneys office at the federal courthouse in Cedar Rapids on Friday, Dec. 23, 2016. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — An Iowa man was sentenced Wednesday to more than three years in federal prison for stealing trade secrets from DuPont for a competitor in the ethanol fuel industry and lying to federal agents.

Josh Harry Isler, 55, of St. Ansgar, pleaded guilty last July in U.S. District Court to one count of theft of trade secrets and one count of making false material statements to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

As part of the plea agreement, Isler admitted he stole DuPont trade secrets during August 2013 while he was employed with the company, which has facilities in Cedar Rapids, and after he accepted a job offer from a smaller competitor in the ethanol fuel business.

The competitor recruited Isler, offering him a new car and significantly higher salary than he was being paid at DuPont, despite that Isler had been “underperforming and struggling to understand basic concepts” while employed by DuPont, according to the plea agreement.

On the same day Isler accepted the position with the competitor, the competitor’s chief operating officer told Isler he would be handling two ethanol plant clients that had also been customers of DuPont and asked Isler if he had seen “any baseline data” for those plants, evidence shows. Isler said, “Let me see what I can before I can’t,” the evidence shows.

In a message later that day, the chief operating officer told Isler, “I think you made the right choice,” according to evidence. Prosecutors said Isler submitted his resignation letter to DuPont the following day, but Isler didn’t leave DuPont until two weeks later. During those two weeks, he downloaded and sent to the competitor numerous electronic files that contained proprietary and trade secret information of DuPont.

The files included test, yield and pricing information for products and customers of DuPont, the evidence shows.

A few days before leaving DuPont, Isler contacted the competitor’s chief operating officer to say he would be turning in his company phone to DuPont, prosecutors said. The officer told Isler to “erase all texts with me before giving the phone back,” according to evidence.

During an exit interview with DuPont, Isler acknowledged that he understood the confidentiality agreement he signed when he began working with the company required him to keep DuPont’s intellectual property private even after he left the company, according to evidence.

After Isler left DuPont, the FBI executed a federal search warrant at his residence and seized computers and other electronic storage devices that contained proprietary and trade secret information of DuPont, prosecutors said. At that time, Isler falsely denied that he downloaded files containing information belonging to DuPont to electronic storage devices.

During Thursday’s sentencing, U.S. District Senior Judge Linda Reade pointed out that although Isler had signed a confidentiality agreement and had been trained and counseled by DuPont concerning his obligation to protect trade secrets, he committed several criminal violations within about six months of being hired by DuPont. She also expressed concern about the ethics of the competitor in receiving the stolen information.

Reade sentenced Isler to 42 months in prison and ordered him to pay a $5,000 fine. He also will serve three years of supervised release following his prison time.

“The theft of intellectual property is not only unfair, it is a serious crime with serious consequences,” U.S. Attorney Peter Deegan Jr. said in a statement after the sentencing. “Those who steal trade secrets seek to gain an unfair advantage over their victims and, in the process, their greedy acts damage our economy and stifle technological development.”

This case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Murphy and investigated by the FBI.

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