Send an e-mail, go to jail
March 18, 2002
Stephen Martin of Sonoma says he's not angry about being only the second person brought to trial under the U.S. Economic Espionage Act.
Nor is he peeved about the year he spent in federal prison as a convicted industrial spy.
The thing that gets Martin's bacon sizzling is that people still have a totally cavalier attitude about e-mail.
"They think they can say anything in an e-mail," he told me the other day. "People don't realize that horrible things can happen."
Take Martin. Or don't. The guy, after all, is a handful.
"I'm basically a bio-nerd," he said. "I'm someone with a giant I.Q. and an ego the size of Brazil."
He's also a 54-year-old who still lives at home with his mom and has no plans to get out and find a job, even though he has a doctorate in immunology from the University of California at Berkeley along with four other degrees.
And to a Maine biotech company called Idexx Laboratories, Martin is a malicious interloper who used e-mail to coax an employee into passing along trade secrets.
"The case speaks for itself," said Elisabeth Perry, a spokeswoman for Idexx.
"He was found guilty."
Nevertheless, Martin is now attempting to warn others about the potential perils of electronic communication.
As part of this effort, he sent out a press release last week on "how to e- mail yourself to hell and/or federal prison with only the click of a mouse."
&0151; "Try to correspond with someone who writes funny and endearing e-mails that lull you into a noncritical state of mind."
&0151; "Try to correspond with someone who will prompt the FBI to tap your phones."
&0151; "Try to correspond with someone who is much better looking, better behaved and more sympathetic than you, especially in front of a jury."
Needless to say, many of Martin's pointers stem from his own experiences. Or his own perception thereof.
In 1999, he was charged with manipulating an Idexx worker, Caryn Camp, into handing over the company's inside dope.
Camp had contacted Martin months earlier after coming across his Web site, which at the time was espousing advances in veterinary technology. Idexx is a leading manufacturer of veterinary technologies.
Martin insists today that his seven-month correspondence with Camp was purely innocent. "I was only interested in her knowledge of veterinary diagnostics and regulatory affairs," he said.
Prosecutors and, eventually, a jury saw things differently. Specifically, they zeroed in on a single e-mail that Martin sent to Camp on July 21, 1999, shortly before her planned departure from Idexx.
Saying he was "embarrassed to ask this," Martin urged Camp to "absorb as much information physically and intellectually as you can."
He added: "I never had a spy before. We are going to be in the veterinary business big time."
Martin told me his comments were taken out of context and that, in fact, he couldn't recall having written that or what he had meant to say.
"I don't know why I threw that in there," he said. "But I do know that those two lines sent me to prison."
And off he went, to a minimum-security facility near Bakersfield, where Martin said things actually weren't all that unpleasant. He worked a lot in the garden and was nicknamed "Compost King" by the other inmates.
Martin was released in November 2000 and spent a month at a halfway house in San Francisco.
He's now back at home with his mom and focusing his energy on a natural- medicine organization called Grouppe Kurosawa, which the Web site describes as a "bunch of super-intelligent freaks who do not work and play well with others. "
You can e-mail Martin if you like (email@example.com), but he may not write back. He makes it a policy these days not to correspond with anyone who works for a private company.
"I learned my lesson," Martin said.
Better late than never.
PG&E BONUSES: I quoted PG&E sources a while ago as saying that Chairman Robert Glynn was likely to receive a bonus of $1.2 million for his hard work steering the utility into bankruptcy.
And sure enough, Glynn received $1.2 million last week, plus a stock award worth $3 million.
But one thing I had trouble pinning down was a rumor that the $64 million overall that PG&E handed out to managers and administrators was a record high.
If true (as my sources say is the case), this would have added an embarrassing coda to the outlandish generosity PG&E showed those who engineered the largest utility bankruptcy in U.S. history.
PG&E spokesman Ron Low said he would check on it for me. And when I called back later in the day, he said he was still checking. And when I called yet again, he said he was still checking.
My column ran, but I still phoned Low a few days later to see what he'd finally managed to come up with.
"Still checking," he said.
"Ron," I replied, "you're not going to tell me if this is a record high, are you?"
"No," he admitted.
Good old PG&E. A class act all the way.
by DAVID LAZARUS. Copyright © 2002 San Francisco Chronicle