"Ford initiated an investigation of a now former employee and requested the assistance of the FBI. Ford's offices were not searched by the agency; Ford voluntarily provided the information and items requested in the search warrant. We continue to work in cooperation with the FBI on this joint investigation. As this is an ongoing investigation, we are not able to provide additional details."
UPDATE #2: Autoblog spoke with David Porter, media coordinator for the FBI's Detroit field office, who was able to confirm that the statement we received from Ford is accurate. Agents from the FBI executed a search warrant at Ford offices, which involved company representatives "immediately" presenting agents with the items/information requested on the warrant.
Agents of the FBI are investigating a potential case of industrial espionage involving a recently fired Ford employee. The Dearborn, MI-based manufacturer had its world headquarters searched by FBI agents on July 11, and according to The Detroit News, had warrants to seize recording devices handed over to Ford by Sharon Leach, a now-former Ford engineer.
Leach, who had spent 17 years with the Blue Oval, was fired last month, after Ford Security relieved her of eight Sansa listening devices. The FBI got involved shortly after her dismissal, searching her home on June 20 and seizing some two dozen items, including computers, jump drives and financial records, according to warrants obtained by The News.
Ford has remained quiet on the matter, with spokeswoman Susan Krusel confirming that the automaker was working with the FBI as part of a "joint investigation," while declining to provide any additional details.
Legal experts are watching the case closely, as the move to search and seize items rather than issuing of a subpoena would indicate that the Feds are concerned that evidence could be destroyed.
"It didn't involve anything of a spying nature." – Marshall Tauber
"If it's an economic espionage case or trade secrets case, that rarely involves one individual," Peter Henning, a law professor at Detroit's Wayne State University, told The News. "So the concern is if you send a subpoena and ask for recording devices, those things can be erased."
Leach declined to comment to The News. Her attorney, meanwhile, is denying any wrongdoing and claiming the recording devices were used without malice.
"It didn't involve anything of a spying nature," Marshall Tauber, Leach's lawyer, told The News. "She wanted to record conversations of meetings she attended but didn't know how to do it. She was insecure about her note-taking."
Be that as it may, the fact that the listening devices were installed before Leach's meetings and were left in conference rooms after that, is suspicious enough that it led Ford Security to get involved.
Leach later admitted to using the devices, and claimed that she only used them to record her own meetings. According to Tauber, she said she erased them as soon as she listened to them and revised her notes.
"I think you're dealing with a person who was seeing how sharp the new kids are and maybe feeling a need to keep up with them," Tauber told The News. "And maybe she realized that she's not as attentive as she once was and needs a little assistance. Maybe her memory was failing her on the technology end but she didn't want to admit it."
The case is now in the hands of the US Attorney's Office and the FBI.