Surveyor faces theft of trade secrets, data charges
A well-known Park Rapids surveyor faces felony theft charges in a case that has elements of competitive espionage to it.
Thomas Michael Miller, 64, has been charged with downloading the database of Arro Land Surveyors, LLC, his former employer, and taking it, a client list and other information to Lindow Surveying & Mapping LLC, where he is now employed as a consultant.
The local office is called Arro of Park Rapids, LLC.
Miller faces two counts of computer theft in a case being characterized in David and Goliath terms.
Miller is a fixture at Hubbard County Board of Adjustment and Planning Commission meetings, where his projects and clients are frequently presented. He is well respected by those boards and the County Board of Commissioners, with which he has done business on a regular basis. In the past he has developed his own projects.
The allegedly purloined proprietary information is valued at $165,000. Miller also faces a felony charge of theft of trade secrets from Arro.
"Espionage? I don't think it's quite that romantic," said Miller's attorney Aaron Morrison of Minneapolis, a member of a leading criminal defense firm.
"Mr. Miller, of course denies doing anything wrong," Morrison said. "He didn't do anything wrong here and we'll wait to see how it works out in court, but I'm quite confident in the end there will be a different spin to it than what's in the complaint."
Morrison said there is a "tremendous history" between the rival companies. Founder Kevin Lindow left Arro in February.
John Zacher, part owner of Arro, said the information allegedly stolen is a gold mine for an upstart competing business.
"Having all that information, all the information that was on our computers, the customer lists and things like that, yeah," he said.
Miller said his attorney asked that he not speak about the case and apologized, referring inquiries to Morrison.
"I'm sorry, I can't discuss it," Lindow said.
The criminal complaint asserts Miller, a week prior to giving Arro notice of his resignation April 2, asked a subordinate "how to make a backup to Arro's Z drive and then downloaded the copy to a hard drive."
At the time Miller was office manager for Arro.
Investigators executed a search warrant May 27 and "immediately observed an external hard drive plugged into a laptop computer at Miller's desk," the complaint states. The hard drive was seized as evidence.
The complaint was signed this week. Miller is scheduled to be arraigned Oct. 11.
Both Lindow and Miller were employees of Shellack Engineering, which was purchased by Arro in March 2007. Arro is in turn owned by Northern Lakes Co., of Walker and Bruce Skipton. Zacher is a partner is Northern Lakes.
"Kevin and his company have not been charged," said Minneapolis attorney Jim Sheehy, who represents Lindow and his company. "When the dust settles, the facts will show that Arro, a larger competitor, parlayed a relatively minor situation into an opportunity to stifle legitimate competition."
Arro has offices in Park Rapids, Walker, Bemidji and International Falls.
Each felony Miller is charged with carries a maximum of 10 years and/or a $50,000 fine upon conviction. Miller does not have a criminal history.
"The complaint pretty much speaks for itself," Zacher said. "He's been charged with two or three felony theft charges. That's pretty serious. We were surprised when we learned what he had done. We never expected that from him."