Louisiana scientists accused of stealing trade secrets from renowned Baton Rouge Water Institute

Baton Rouge's Water Campus
Baton Rouge's Water Campus(WAFB)
Published: Jun. 5, 2019 at 6:28 PM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Two scientists have been arrested and charged with attempting to steal trade secrets from the Water Institute of the Gulf, a world-renowned water research institution in Baton Rouge.

According to the indictment filed in Louisiana’s Middle District Court, Ehab Meselhe and Kelin Hu both worked at the Water Institute and conspired to knowingly steal and duplicate information about the Basin Wide Model, which predicts how the Mississippi Delta could change over time.

Meselhe, a professor at Tulane who was once honored for his contribution to the state’s coastal and master plan, resigned from the Water Institute in October of 2018. The indictment indicates Hu was caught copying data and fired in January 2019.

Tulane hired both scientists to conduct similar research at their ByWater institution soon after their respective departures. Tulane says it will decide whether to fire the doctors after it conducts an internal review.

"The purpose of Meselhe and Hu's scheme was to steal and otherwise misappropriate a trade secret, that is, the Basin Wide Model, and use this trade secret for the economic benefit of Meselhe, Hu, and the other water research institute," the indictment reads.

The indictment alleges that Meselhe, while a professor at Tulane, instructed Hu to copy certain files from the water institute and send them to a private email.

“Make a full copy of the entire [project] folder to an external hard drive BEFORE you resign,” Meselhe wrote to Hu in an email, according to the indictment. “Include the code itself, the post processing scripts, and everything also.”

"Yes, I will do those," Hu responded, according to the indictment.

Baton Rouge's Water Campus
Baton Rouge's Water Campus(WAFB)

The indictment indicates the Basin Wide Model gave the Water Institute an advantage in securing work contracts. If another institute had a similar model, the Baton Rouge Water Institute could lose out on certain deals and bids.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Louisiana has announced the indictment of two Tulane University faculty members — Professor Ehab Meselhe and Research Assistant Professor Kelin Hu — both of whom started full time at Tulane in the past year. Charges against the two allege the transfer and theft of intellectual property from the Water Institute of the Gulf, where both were previously employed. There is no claim of impropriety against Tulane University.

Tulane is committed to protecting ownership of intellectual property and providing a supportive environment for research and scholarship for our faculty and students. Additionally, Tulane remains dedicated to our collaborative relationship with the Water Institute.

Tulane is fully cooperating with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and will continue to do so. The employment status of Meselhe and Hu will be determined after we have had the opportunity to conduct an internal review."

Theft of proprietary information and intellectual property for personal gain will not be tolerated by this office, especially where the theft is from a research institution whose purpose is to study environmental impacts so that we can best protect our citizens from natural and man-made disasters and other coastal threats. Businesses, universities, and many other organizations like the Water Institute invest tremendous amounts of time, talent and money in creating proprietary information to advance their various missions – they should be protected too. I commend our prosecutor and the FBI for their outstanding efforts and for leading a complex investigation that culminated in this indictment. I would also like to acknowledge the quick response from the Baton Rouge Police Department in bringing this very important matter to our attention.

We are deeply troubled and saddened by the recent allegations and charges filed against our former colleagues. We will continue to cooperate fully with federal law enforcement and we have hired outside experts to conduct a comprehensive review of our internal processes and systems – including information technology, security, and intellectual property – to ensure all appropriate measures are in place. The Water Institute is a not-for-profit, independent applied research organization and remains strongly committed to and focused on our mission to help coastal and deltaic communities thoughtfully prepare for an uncertain future.

Michael Magner, a New Orleans lawyer representing Meselhe, says his client “completely denies any wrongdoing.”

Dr. Meselhe has an impeccable reputation within the professional and academic community in Louisiana and nationally. He dedicated the past 22 years to serve the State of Louisiana with the coastal restoration efforts. He was the lead designer and developer of numerous numerical modeling efforts — and he completely denies any wrongdoing. Besides the fact that Dr. Meselhe developed the computer modeling programs at issue in this case, most of them are and have been available to the public, scientific and engineering communities, and other public and non-profit institutions for the purpose of protecting Louisiana’s coast. Dr. Meselhe is not guilty of the crimes alleged, and he looks forward to having his day in court where we expect that he will be completely exonerated.

This matter was initiated by Baton Rouge Police Department and is being investigated by the Baton Rouge Resident Agency of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Brian Frazier.

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