Durham County News

Cree employee accused of stealing files worth $100M, warrants say

DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) - A longtime employee at Cree faces larceny charges after another worker found a memory card full of company documents valued at more than $100 million.

In May, a worker at Cree found a micro SD card on the company's campus at Research Triangle Park. Warrants obtained Tuesday by CBS 17 reveal such storage devices are banned on the campus as part of the electronics company's security protocol.

The officer's report said surveillance cameras recorded Coy Bell insert the micro-SD card into his work computer just after noon on May 4. Not long after, an exterior camera recorded Bell walking outside near the spot where the other worker found the card later that afternoon.

Cree's IT department reviewed the card and found more than 32,000 files that "reflected nearly every aspect of a process which was developed over the past 30 years with hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of investments," according to a warrant filed by a Durham County deputy. 

"I'm sure it is valuable to Cree and I expect there won't be any evidence that Coy tried to sell that information to anyone for any amount of money. Certainly the value that they have attached to this information boggles the mind," defense attorney Hart Miles said.

Warrants indicate Bell told detectives that he knew having memory cards on campus was prohibited, but he denied transferring the files.

"When it comes time to sit down with the prosecutors, we'll talk with them about Coy's explanation. It is an innocent one, but as far as details right now, it's not the right time to share those [details]. But, we certainly will share those with the prosecutor, and let the prosecutor decide whether he finds that explanation to be credible,"  Miles said.

The defense attorney said he did not know specifics of Bell's office duties, but said it is a technical job in which Bell and some of his colleagues were moving "large amount of information" as part of their daily routine.

Deputies arrested Bell June 18 and charged him with felony larceny by an employee of a value greater than $100,000. A judge increased Bell's initial bond from $50,000 to $150,000, which he posted in June. 

The investigating officer's report said if a "foreign entity" had obtained the files, they could have set up a lab in a matter of weeks.

Investigators obtained additional search warrants to gain access to Bell's telephone records. Miles said he expects those searches to help prove his client's innocence.

"We're confident that what they're seeking, the phone records in this case will help clear Coy of any criminal wrongdoing," he said.

"What happened here was a company who is well-respected in the community, having concerns about some of their valuable information getting out there. There were certain conclusions that were drawn very quickly before a full investigation was done, and we see this search warrant as part of doing that due diligence to determine what exactly happened here."

One investigator wrote that it is probable Bell conspired with another entity, business, or government. Miles said Bell, a military veteran, has no connection to any foreign country such as China or Russia, and has no association with any other company who might want access to Cree's confidential files.

He said there is no criminal intent associated with this case.

"An SD card in a parking lot doesn't sound like a corporate espionage type of situation, as far as some sort of complicated conspiracy to steal information," Miles said.

A company spokesperson emailed a short statement in response to CBS 17's inquiries: "Cree does not comment on ongoing investigations."


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