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Man who stole Tesla trade secrets pleads guilty

Credit: Tesla Inc.

A man who was arrested in March for allegedly stealing Tesla’s trade secrets has pleaded guilty.

Klaus Pflugbeil was arrested and accused of stealing Tesla’s trade secrets, which included manufacturing techniques and proprietary information the automaker had gathered, in March. After meeting with “businessmen” who were actually undercover federal agents, Pflugbeil was arrested.

Pflugbeil, along with Yilong Shao, both of Ningbo, China, worked for Hibar Systems, a Canadian battery manufacturer that was bought out by Tesla in 2019.

Men accused of selling Tesla battery secrets arrested in undercover sting

After working for Hibar, both Pflugbeil and Shao moved to China and tried to establish their own company that looked to sell the stolen trade secrets that Tesla had discovered through its development of EVs.

Pflugbeil was arrested after the meeting with undercover agents, while Shao remained at large. Authorities are still unaware of his whereabouts.

However, Pflugbeil decided to plead guilty to conspiring to send trade secrets that belonged to a “leading U.S.-based electric vehicle company.”

U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, Breon Peace, said:

“Today, the defendant is guilty of boldly sending valuable trade secrets, detailed documents and drawings that he stole from a U.S.-based leading manufacturer of battery-powered electric vehicles to an undercover law enforcement agent expertly posing as a businessman on Long Island. Today’s guilty plea demonstrates how this Office will swiftly bring to justice those who misappropriate intellectual property belonging to American companies, to safeguard our economy and national security.”

Tesla is not explicitly mentioned in the U.S. Department of Justice’s announcement of Pflugbeil’s guilty plea. However, it can be confirmed that the company in question is Tesla based on the description of what the release calls “Victim Company-1.”

The release states:

“Victim Company-1 is a U.S.-based leading manufacturer of battery-powered electric vehicles and battery energy systems.  In 2019, Victim Company-1 acquired a Canada-based manufacturer of automated, precision dispensing pumps and battery assembly lines. Prior to its purchase by Victim Company-1, the Canadian Manufacturer sold battery assembly lines to customers who manufactured alkaline and lithium-ion batteries for consumer use.”

Pflugbeil and Shao advertised their products, which Tesla owned intellectual rights to, on Google, YouTube, and LinkedIn. Messages between the two also confirmed that they stole Tesla’s ideas and property. In one message, Pflugbeil wrote to Shao that it had restructured a document used by the EV maker by saying, “[its] in a different format, so it looks very original and not like a copy.”

Pflugbeil is facing up to 10 years in prison.

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Man who stole Tesla trade secrets pleads guilty
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