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Fruit juice firm claims ex-exec squeezed its IP

Rochester Business Journal
September 28, 2012

Fruit juice trader Brothers International Food Corp. claims a fired executive rifled its computer files, extracting key data, and temporarily hobbled its online sales by locking it out of websites, including PayPal.com, Twitter.com and GoDaddy.com.
 
Based in Rochester, Brothers International bills itself as one of the world's largest suppliers of fruit juice concentrates and blends, with a client list including Fortune 100 food giants. The privately owned firm was founded some 10 years ago by three brothers from Batavia, co-CEOs Matthew and Travis Betters and James Betters, vice president of sales and marketing.
 
In addition to local fruit-juice trading operations and branches in Qingdao, China, and Quito, Ecuador, Brothers International has a line of natural fruit snacks under its own brand and as a Walt Disney Co. co-brand.
 
It also has a Batavia-based import division, Lost Vineyards of the World, specializing in bargain-priced wines at $3.99 to $4.99 a bottle from Italy, Spain, Portugal and Argentina.
 
In a complaint filed Sept. 20 in U.S. District Court in Rochester, Brothers International states that it fired its former director of e-commerce, Colin Chase, in July after Chase refused to sign a confidentiality pact.
 
Chase's attorney, Elizabeth Cordello of Underberg & Kessler LLP, said all accusations made by Brothers International against her client are frivolous and completely untrue.
 
Chase lists his approximately two-year stint with Brothers International as a resume item on a website he maintains as an online marketing consultant and in a LinkedIn online profile. On the website, he takes credit for a 60 percent boost in sales of the company's all-natural fruit snacks last year.
 
An employee since 2010, Chase had been a key executive, privy to the firm's most closely held secrets, and had been responsible for day-to-day computer support and server maintenance, the complaint states. Chase's computer duties gave him access to Brothers International's trove of passwords, giving him a free hand to access virtually any private document in the company's files.
 
After he was fired, Chase boasted in an email to Travis Betters that he had "seen this coming for the past month" and had prepared for his termination by "off-loading lots of documentation," the company alleges in the complaint.
 
Among proprietary information the firm alleges Chase misappropriated are a confidential list of all of Brothers International's vendors; the firm's invoices, sales and marketing strategies; and intellectual property such as brand artwork. Chase also is took a highly confidential 14,000-subscriber email marketing list, the company claims.
 
"Brothers has taken careful measures to treat this information as highly confidential trade secrets," the firm's complaint states.
 
As the company's primary IT manager, the company also claims, Chase created a master password needed to access Brothers International's other passwords, which are stored on KeePass.
 
Chase, who was the only one privy to the master password, refused to divulge it after he was fired and tried to convince a Brothers International IT staffer who asked for the password to not mention his unwillingness to reveal it, the firm's court complaint claims. As a result of Chase's alleged refusal, the firm was locked out of key systems for several weeks.
 
In addition to compensation for the revenue it lost because of the alleged lockout, Brothers International asks for a court order barring Chase from using any information he is supposed to have misappropriated. The company also seeks damages in an unspecified amount for money it spent to hire experts to recover information and have its own employee create new pathways into its computer systems.
 
Cordello predicted the Brothers International complaint would be thrown out for failing to state a valid cause of action under the federal law the company accuses Chase of violating, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.
 
If the case does proceed, she added, she is prepared to fully answer and refute Brothers International's claims.
 
Though she is not ready to tell it yet, she said, "there's a bigger story there."

9/28/12 (c) 2012 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email service@rbj.net.
 


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