Has Ford had a spy in its ranks?
The FBI recently searched the American automaker's world headquarters as part of an investigation into a former Ford engineer who allegedly "hid" recording devices throughout conference rooms, The Detroit News reported.
The employee under investigation is former Ford engineer Sharon Leach, who was recently fired after the automaker's security team found the recording devices. The mechanical engineer had been a Ford employee for 17 years.
Search warrants obtained by the News revealed that the FBI seized listening devices, computers and financial records from Ford's headquarters, but the records that would explain why the agency had probable cause for the search are sealed in federal court.
The decision to search company headquarters and the engineer's house instead of issuing a subpoena may mean that the FBI was worried about the potential destruction of evidence, Peter Henning, a law professor at Wayne State University and a former federal prosecutor, told the News.
"If it's an economic espionage case or trade secrets case, that rarely involves one individual," Henning said. "So the concern is if you send a subpoena and ask for recording devices, those things can be erased."
Leach, who has not been charged with a crime, declined to speak to the News. According to her lawyer, the former Ford engineer hid the devices under tables to assist her with transcribing meetings.
"It didn't involve anything of a spying nature," lawyer Marshall Tauber told the News. "She wanted to record conversations of meetings she attended but didn't know how to do it. She was insecure about her note-taking."
When Leach's home was searched on June 20, the FBI took "more than two dozen items, including several desktop and laptop computers, a credit card, thumb drives and financial records."
According to Tauber, nothing should be amiss.
"They want to know if she is suddenly coming into more money than her salary shows," Tauber said. "My client tells me they are not going to find anything unusual whatsoever."
Ford spokeswoman Susan Krusel said Ford is not a target of the FBI investigation and is working with authorities.
"Ford and the FBI are working together on a joint investigation involving a former employee," she told the News. "As this is an ongoing investigation, we are not able to provide additional details."