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Archive for Tuesday, March 2, 2004

High-tech breakup spurs probe

Lawrence Police investigate software theft, sabotage allegations

March 2, 2004

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The departure of two key executives from a Lawrence-based computer manufacturer has spurred allegations of high-tech sabotage -- and a criminal investigation.

Lawrence Police spokesman Sgt. Mike Pattrick confirmed Monday the department was investigating allegations that Microtech Computers, 4921 Legends Drive, was the victim of software theft.

Pattrick declined to disclose details of the investigation.

But Mike Zheng, president of Microtech, said the investigation was tied to the sudden departure of two top executives at the company's Atipa Technologies division.

Bret Stouder and Rocky McGaugh -- who co-founded Atipa in the early '90s and sold the company to Microtech three years ago -- left Atipa in early February. Last week, the pair formed TeamHPC Inc., a Eudora-based company that, like Atipa, designs and builds high-performance computers for governments, universities and private companies.

Stouder said the company could add as many as 200 jobs in the Lawrence area during the next year.

Zheng is alleging information, such as customer lists, was illegally taken from Atipa's files. He also said police were investigating acts of corporate sabotage.

Stouder said he was aware of the investigation but denied any wrongdoing.

"We have acted in the most ethical and upfront manner possible," Stouder said. "I don't know where he has come up with some of this. I'm sure when this sorts itself out that people will understand we're the same ethical and honest people we've always been."

He declined to go into detail about the investigation.

The allegations haven't slowed Stouder from starting TeamHPC. The company is moving in to Intech Business Park in Eudora, where the company now has 10 employees. It has another 58 in Jefferson City, Mo., where another partner, Dale Gable, operates a computer manufacturing plant.

Stouder also said he was looking for new space in Lawrence or Eudora that would allow the company to move the manufacturing work, and as many as 200 jobs, to the area in the next 12 months. Whether that move would close the Jefferson City plant was uncertain.

"We think we have a good group of people that will allow us to compete immediately," said Stouder, who is president of TeamHPC.

Many of the 10 Eudora employees, who handle the bulk of the company's design work, are former Atipa employees. Stouder said Microtech had started dismantling Atipa's technology staff, which was one of the reasons he decided to leave the company.

Zheng said that wasn't the way it happened.

He said Stouder, who served as Atipa's director, and McGaugh, who served as its chief technology officer, had been planning to leave the company and start their own firm for quite some time.

"It is basically a conspiracy," Zheng said.

Zheng said Atipa, which does about $20 million a year in sales, would remain in business. It recently was given an $8 million contract to install a cluster of high-tech computers at a U.S. Naval facility that conducts nuclear research, Zheng said.

"We're still going strong," Zheng said. "We already have new engineers and our people are in place. We're going forward."

Zheng said his attorneys also were considering filing a civil lawsuit in the matter.

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