Fired Tech Worker Could Get 10 Years

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – A Silicon Valley tech worker facing criminal charges of stealing trade secrets was released on bail Tuesday, five days after he was arrested trying to leave for China.
Jing Zeng, 42, of San Ramon, was arrested at San Francisco International Airport on Aug. 20 as he was about to board a flight to Shanghai. He is charged with downloading more than 100 files of proprietary information from his employer, Machine Zone, after learning he was about to be fired. If convicted, he could be sentenced to 10 years in federal prison and fined $250,000.
Machine Zone, a Palo Alto-based company valued at $3 billion in 2014, makes the popular mobile game app “Game of War: Fire Age,” boasting of more than 1 million global users a day.
Zeng got into the company’s confidential database from his work laptop and sent the information to external drives in July, according to a 17-page FBI affidavit attached to the criminal complaint.
After he was fired, Zeng wiped and reformatted his work laptop before returning it to the company. When Machine Zone confronted him with evidence that he had taken data, Zeng admitted it, but denied any bad intent. He asked for a severance package in exchange for destroying or returning the external media, the indictment claims.
Zeng started working for Machine Zone in November 2014 as director of global infrastructure and signed a confidentiality agreement when he was hired, according to the FBI.
In March, he became interim vice president of operations. In April he complained that he “had issues” with his new supervisor’s management style, the complaint states.
He tried to transfer from the operations department to the platform team, but in June the platform department’s chief technology officer told him the company had rejected his proposal for a new platform operations team, according to the FBI.
Log files captured by Machine Zone’s IT department show Zeng attached external devices to his work laptop from June 17 to June 19.
After confirming with his superiors and human resources in early July that his job would end by Aug. 1, Zeng logged into the company’s Tableau database and accessed several business analytics reports, according to the FBI affidavit. Machine Zone said Zeng had no legitimate business reason to access the information as part of his job.
Computer server logs show Zeng transferred large swaths of information from the database, which holds customer use data used to help optimize the game’s performance, between July 8 and July 10, according to the indictment.
After negotiating a severance package and asking for time to review the document, Zeng copied Machine Zone files and documents from his laptop to an external device on July 15, the FBI says.
Zeng flew to Shanghai from San Francisco International Airport on July 17 and returned on Aug. 5. He met Machine Zone CEO Gabe Leydon at a Palo Alto cafe on Aug. 17 and said he took screenshots of documents in the database to “assess how well the company was doing in order to assess the value of his stock options,” the complaint states.
During that meeting, Zeng asked for a larger 6-to-7-month severance package, suggesting such a deal was necessary for him to return the stolen data. Zeng emailed Leydon the next day stating that he wanted a separation agreement signed before he would turn over the external drives, according to the complaint.
He was arrested at the airport as he prepared to board a flight to Shanghai.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Joseph Spero unsealed the complaint on Tuesday and released him on $100,000 bail, with electronic monitoring.
Michael Quillinan, with Fink & Miller, who represented Zeng in correspondence with Machine Zone this month, did not immediately return a request for comment.
Some details of the case remain under seal.

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