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AT&T sues former employees for phone unlock scheme

Former AT&T Mobility LLC employees who schemed to illegally unlock wireless phones on the AT&T network have landed squarely in the crosshairs of a lawsuit filed in federal court by the mobile communications company.

In the suit, AT&T claimed that Marc Sapatin, Nguyen Lam, Kyra Evans, Prashant Vira and John Does 1-50 “knowingly facilitated and encouraged others to engage in, a scheme using an unauthorized computer program to attack AT&T's protected computer systems” to disable pre-installed software that “designed to limit the activation of the phones exclusively to AT&T's network.” That software is vastly valuable to the mobile carrier “because it allows AT&T to subsidize the cost of the phone to consumers while protecting AT&T's investment in the phones through term contracts” and why the group's plot to disable it prompted the company seek damages in federal court for what it called “significant losses.”

AT&T Mobility said in the complaint that the defendants created, distributed and place malware on its systems that was “designed to fraudulently, and without authorization, transmit unlock requests that unlocked hundreds of thousands of phones from exclusive use on AT&T's network.

As a result, the scheme “caused substantial damage to AT&T's protected computer systems and effectively stole AT&T's subsidy investment in its phones.”

The defendants are accused of violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, with some of the defendants also accused of breaching duty of loyalty, interference with contract or business expectancy and unjust enrichment for receiving economic benefits from the scheme.

In addition, AT&T accused the group of civil conspiracy for banding together to defraud AT&T by unlocking the phones through unauthorized use of the malware. AT&T petitioned the U.S. District Court in the Western District of Washington at Seattle for a trial jury and asked for “compensatory, consequential, and special damages including, without limitation, its lost profits, lost goodwill and damage to its reputation, and Defendants' profits, together with pre and post-judgment interest, as provided by law” as well as attorney fees and court costs.

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