Jury finds two Greenback engineers guilty
Clark Allan RobertsSean Edward Howley
Clark Allan Roberts     Sean Edward Howley

2 accused of stealing trade secrets from Goodyear for Wyko

By Ed Marcum knoxnews.com
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 Chinese competitor.

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 will face.

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 appeal.

"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.