A jury has found two Greenback engineers guilty
of charges that they stole trade secrets from Goodyear Tire and
Rubber Co. to attempt duplicating tire-making equipment for a
Clark Alan Roberts,
47, and Sean Edward Howley, 39, were found guilty on all counts
of a 10-count federal indictment that alleged they conspired to
steal and make use of trade secrets. They now face an April 14
sentencing hearing in U.S. District Court in Knoxville under
Judge Thomas W. Phillips.
The charges Roberts and Howley were convicted
of include: conspiracy; theft and attempted theft of trade
secrets and aiding and abetting that crime; photographing and
attempted photographing of trade secrets and aiding and
abetting; transmittal and attempted transmittal of trade secrets
and aiding and abetting; possession and attempted possession of
trade secrets and aiding and abetting; wire fraud and aiding and
abetting and conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
Doug Trant, Howley's attorney, said the law
allows a maximum of 10 years for the charges his client faces
and up to 20 for those facing Roberts, although the attorney
said it is rare that anyone serves those amounts of time. The
judge will determine what punishment or fines Roberts and Howley
After the verdict, both men embraced sobbing
family members. Roberts remained quiet but Howley seemed
incredulous and told family member several times that he could
not believe what was happening. Trant said there will be an
"Definitely we will appeal, but that will be
after the sentencing," he said.
The trial, which began Dec. 1, saw federal
prosecutors Greg Weddle and Thomas Dougherty lay out a scenario
in which Roberts and Howley, who worked for Greenback-based Wyko
Tire Technology Inc., faced a tight deadline to produce a
crucial type of tire-making machinery for a Chinese company that
wanted to make the oversized tires used on heavy earth-moving
and mining equipment. Called an over-ply down machine, the
device wraps rubber around steel cables that form the inner bead
of a tire, and Wyko had never made one, prosecutors said.
But Goodyear, for which Wyko was a supplier,
had developed such a machine. Roberts, who was Wyko's chief
engineer, arranged for himself and Howley, an
engineer-in-training, to visit a Goodyear plant in Topeka,
Kansas, in May 2007 so Howley could use a cell phone camera to
photograph such a machine on the sly, prosecutors alleged.
Trant, and attorneys Tom Dillard and Stephen
Johnson, representing Roberts, didn't deny the photos were taken
and even characterized it as a bad decision but not a crime.
Attorneys challenged the idea that the machine, which Goodyear
had sent photos and an actual example of to Wyko years earlier,
met the definition of a trade secret under the law.
According to an overview of the law by
Assistant U.S. Attorney George Dilworth on the Justice
Department website, such issues were mainly dealt with in civil
court until Congress passed the Economic Espionage Act of 1996.
The FBI determined then that more than 20 countries were
actively trying to steal U.S. trade secrets, plus advances in
technology were making it easier for employees to copy and steal
crucial information from companies.
During the Knoxville trial, photos and other
exhibits showing sensitive information about the Goodyear
equipment was shown only to the court and jury after prosecutors
had sought to keep Goodyear's trade secrets from being revealed
during the proceedings. After Thursday's verdict, Weddle again
asked that steps be taken to protect the information during the
sentencing phase. According to Dilworth, part of this phase
involves establishing the value of the trade secret, which can
be a problem.
"Prosecutors should understand that the risk
of divulging the trade secret may be greatest at the sentencing
stage," he wrote.