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Cybercrime: Benjamin Levi Cox Pleaded Guilty to One Count of Wire Fraud and One Count of Interception of Electronic Communications

I.T. system administrator sentenced for theft of proprietary information and illegal wiretapping

Stole custom design products when he resigned and took information to new job with a competitor

INDIANAPOLIS – The former information technology (IT) system administrator for an Indiana stainless steel fabrication company pleaded guilty and was sentenced today to serve eight months in prison for the theft of his former employer’s proprietary information and wiretapping its email communications.

U.S. Attorney Josh J. Minkler of the Southern District of Indiana, Special Agent in Charge Paul Dvorak of the U.S. Secret Service, Indianapolis Field Office, and Superintendent Douglas G. Carter of the Indiana State Police made the announcement.

“Companies have the right to keep their proprietary interests out of the hands of competitors,” said Minkler. “Those who choose to steal from their employer and then attempt to obstruct a criminal investigation will be held accountable.”

Benjamin Levi Cox, 34, of Nineveh, Indiana, pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud and one count of interception of electronic communications and was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Sarah Evans Barker. In addition to his prison term, Cox was ordered to serve seven months of home confinement, two years of supervised release and ordered to pay $27,490 in restitution. He was also ordered to perform a further six months of unpaid community service.

According to admissions made in connection with his plea, Cox was formerly employed by Electric Metal Fab, Inc. (“EMF”), a stainless steel fabrication company in Nashville, Indiana. Cox worked as EMF’s IT system administrator and a designer for its computer-aided drafting (“CAD”) system, which EMF used to custom design each product. In or about March 2013, taking advantage of his system administrator privileges, Cox began covertly copying EMF’s entire computer system to an external hard drive. Over a period of three months, Cox repeatedly loaded all of EMF’s proprietary digital information – including thousands of files containing its CAD designs, financial data, sensitive personnel records, and operational and technical documents onto this external device.

As part of his plea, Cox admitted that when he resigned from EMF in June 2013, he took the hard drive containing the stolen EMF data and brought it with him to his new employer, a direct competitor of EMF. Cox then copied multiple files to the new employer’s computer and, among other things, altered the CAD designs to appear as if they had been created by the competitor. The doctored CAD designs were subsequently used by the competitor in obtaining over $45,000 in new contracts with customers that had previously been EMF clients.

Cox further admitted that before quitting EMF, he used his system administrator privileges to secretly configure EMF’s email account settings to auto-forward all of its email communications to two external email accounts he had registered. The intercepted emails included personal correspondence, private financial and legal information, and business dealings between EMF and its clients. After being questioned by investigators, Cox secretly deleted the contents of those email accounts to obstruct the investigation. These efforts were ultimately unsuccessful.

The Cybercrime and High Technology Section of the Indiana State Police and U.S. Secret Service investigated the case. Senior Counsel Aaron R. Cooper of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Criminal Division, Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section (CCIPS), and Senior Litigation Counsel Steven D. DeBrota of the Southern District of Indiana prosecuted the case. The CCIPS Cybercrime Lab also provided assistance.

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