Former Microsoft workers face theft charges

Four former Microsoft employees have been charged with theft, conspiracy, mail fraud and money laundering in connection with the alleged theft and resale of US$32 million of Microsoft software.

In a case filed by the U.S. Attorney's office in Seattle on Nov. 8, the four former Microsoft employees allegedly took advantage of an internal company program that provided any Microsoft software products free to employees as long as the goods were for business use. Instead, the four workers, Finn W. Contini, Robert A. Howdeshell, Alyson M. Clark and Christine J. Hendrickson, all of whom live in the Seattle area, allegedly requested thousands of software products through the internal program and then sold them for personal gain, according to the 33-page criminal complaint filed against them.

Contini and Howdeshell have unpublished telephone numbers and couldn't be reached for comment. Clark and Hendrickson also couldn't be reached for comment.

Contini, Clark and Hendrickson worked as group assistants at Microsoft, while Howdeshell was a project coordinator, according to the complaint. All four workers had access to the free internal software program, the government alleges.

Contini worked for Microsoft from September 1999 to February 2002, while Howdeshell worked there from May 2000 to October 2001. Clark worked for the company from June 1992 until last month, and Hendrickson worked there from March 2000 until June 2002.

The government alleges that Contini ordered 5,400 software products worth US$17 million through the employee program, while Howdeshell ordered 985 products worth US$4 million. Clark allegedly ordered 618 products worth US$1.7 million, and Hendrickson ordered 1,726 products worth US$9.7 million. Overall, the value of the alleged thefts was about US$32.4 million, according to the complaint.

The software included copies of Microsoft Windows XP Professional, Windows Advanced Server 2000, Exchange Server Enterprise 2000, SQL Server 2000 and SharePoint Portal Server 2001. The government alleges that the four former employees earned more than US$3 million from the sale of the products to middlemen, who then sold them on the secondary market.

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