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Louisiana scientists accused of computer fraud

Two scientists have been charged with attempting to steal valuable trade secrets from the Louisiana-based Water Institute of the Gulf. The Baton Rouge hydrology research facility develops computer models designed to determine how environmental changes could affect the Mississippi River Delta. The information is used to earn seven-figure contracts. The two men were indicted by a federal grand jury on conspiracy and computer fraud charges on May 31. The indictments were sealed until the men were taken into custody on June 4. U.S. attorneys announced the indictments on June 5.

The scientists are accused of downloading valuable trade secrets from institute computers in order to sell them to another research facility. One of the men is said to have been fired on Jan. 11 when he was caught downloading a computer model. After leaving the institute, both men accepted positions at Tulane University. The university, which is not named in court documents, is said to be cooperating with federal authorities. Both scientists maintain their innocence.

The information the men are accused of attempting to steal is known as the Basin Wide Model. Federal prosecutors say that email exchanges between the scientists make clear that they intended to acquire the data for personal gain. In the messages, the scientists allegedly planned the theft and cautioned one another against using the institute's messaging system to discuss their plans.

Cases such as this one often rely more on documentary and electronic evidence than witness testimony, which can make mounting an effective defense challenging. When efforts to suppress this kind of evidence are unsuccessful, experienced criminal defense attorneys may seek to resolve cases involving white collar crimes at the negotiating table. Prosecutors are often open to negotiated plea agreements even when the evidence at their disposal seems compelling. This is because fraud and conspiracy cases are complex and arguing before a jury always involves a certain degree of risk.

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