Woman sentenced in multimillion dollar software sting

A 52-year-old Taiwanese woman who pleaded no contest in one of the U.S.' largest software piracy cases was sentenced to nine years in prison Friday, one of the longest sentences ever in the U.S. for a case involving software piracy.

Lisa Chen was arrested along with three associates in November, 2001 after local sheriffs seized hundreds of thousands of copies of pirated software worth more than US$75 million that Chen and her associates were believed to have smuggled into the country from Taiwan, the district attorney for the county of Los Angeles said last week. Published reports and Symantec Corp., whose software was involved in the smuggling operation, later put the value of the software at $98 million.

The pirated software included copies of Microsoft Corp.'s Windows XP operating system and Office 2000 desktop software, as well as Symantec's Norton AntiVirus software, according to a statement released by the district attorney's office.

More than 600,000 units of Symantec's software alone were seized in the raid, according to Symantec.

The forgeries were apparently of high quality and came with professionally printed packaging as well as manuals, user license agreements, decals, and bar codes, according to the district attorney's office.

Chen was apprehended when she drove up to a warehouse that police were searching for evidence. Her business was located in Alhambra, part of greater Los Angeles, according to the district attorney.The car Chen was driving was filled with copies of counterfeited software, according to published reports.

Chen, who listed her residence in New Jersey at the time of her arrest, was described by law enforcement officials as a "manager" in the smuggling operation, responsible for distributing the pirated software and collecting payments from customers, according to the district attorney's office.

Chen and her associates were believed to have been importing pirated software made in Taiwan to the U.S. since 1998, the district attorney's Office said.

In August, Chen pleaded no contest to one count of failure to disclose the origin of a recording or product. In return for her plea, Chen was guaranteed a prison sentence of no more than nine years.

In addition to her prison sentence, Chen will have to pay $11 million in additional restitution to Microsoft and Symantec, according to published reports.

Symantec released a statement expressing satisfaction with the ruling and warning of the dangers of buying and using pirated software.

"The successful prosecution of this case is a tremendous step forward by law enforcement authorities and the combined efforts of the software industry towards stopping the proliferation of illegal copying and distribution of software," Symantec said.

Microsoft could not immediately be reached for comment.

The software seizure was one of the largest in U.S. history. It was the result of an 18 month undercover investigation by the U.S. Customs Service and the Southern California Regional High Tech Task Force, which includes the district attorney's office, local law enforcement agencies, as well as the U.S. Secret Service and the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation.

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