2 La scientists accused of trying to steal trade secrets
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Two Louisiana scientists have been indicted on charges they tried to steal trade secrets from the Water Institute of the Gulf, a hydrology research institution in Baton Rouge that studies and consults on land subsidence, storms, rising sea levels and other coastal threats.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Louisiana said Wednesday in an emailed news release that Ehab Meselhe, 53, and Kelin Hu, 42, face conspiracy charges involving trade secrets and computer fraud and abuse. The men were indicted May 29 but the document remained sealed until their arrests Tuesday.
Meselhe and Hu are full-time faculty members at Tulane University.
Federal prosecutors allege the transfer and theft of intellectual property from the Water Institute, where both previously worked. Both men joined another water research institution in Louisiana after their departure. A records search indicates that institution was affiliated with Tulane University. There is no claim of impropriety against the school.
“The purpose of Meselhe and Hu’s scheme was to steal and otherwise misappropriate a trade secret, that is, the Basin Wide Model, and use this trade secret for the economic benefit of Meselhe, Hu, and the other water research institute,” the indictment reads.
In a statement, Meselhe’s attorney Mike Magner said his client is innocent.
“Dr. Meselhe is not guilty of the crimes alleged, and he looks forward to having his day in court where we expect that he will be completely exonerated,” Magner said.
Magner said Meselhe has an “impeccable reputation,” and has served Louisiana and coastal restoration for 22 years.
Court records did not indicate if Hu has an attorney.
According to the indictment, Meselhe and Hu planned and attempted to take the trade secrets from the Water Institute computer network, download them to personal electronic devices, and then misappropriate those trade secrets for their own economic benefit.
The indictment further alleges that Meselhe instructed Hu about which computer files to copy, making sure they included the trade secret, when to copy them in relation to Hu’s anticipated resignation from the Water Institute, and how to communicate with Meselhe via personal Google Message and email so as to avoid detection by the Water Institute.
According to the indictment, Hu was attempting to download the computer files as Meselhe had instructed, to personal computer devices Hu had brought into his office, when he was caught.
The indictment indicates that the Basin Wide Model gave the Water Institute an advantage in securing work contracts. If another institute had a similar model, the Baton Rouge facility could lose out on certain deals and bids.
“Theft of proprietary information and intellectual property for personal gain will not be tolerated by this office, especially where the theft is from a research institution whose purpose is to study environmental impacts so that we can best protect our citizens from natural and man-made disasters and other coastal threats,” U.S. Attorney Brandon J. Fremin said in Wednesday’s news release. “Businesses, universities, and many other organizations like the Water Institute invest tremendous amounts of time, talent and money in creating proprietary information to advance their various missions - they should be protected too.”
Magner said his client was released from custody on his own recognizance. Hu’s status was not immediately available.