Who Says There’s No Crying in Baseball?

baseball-1091210_960_720TexasBarToday_TopTen_Badge_VectorGraphicTo those who shrug off cybertheft as a victimless crime that shouldn’t involve any real punishment, there’s a federal judge in Houston who just officially delivered a very different message on the subject.

U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes sentenced former St. Louis Cardinals executive Christopher Correa to 46 months in prison for illegal intrusions into the Houston Astros computer database. Correa also was fined $279,000.

Correa, who was the Cardinals’ director of baseball development, admitted in January that he had accessed the Astros’ database in 2013 and 2014. He said then he suspected the Astros of having information proprietary to the Cardinals because former Cardinals employees had gone to work for the Houston team. The Astros have denied the claim and Correa made no mention of it at his sentencing.

It turns out, Correa hacked into the database in part by guessing at logon information, which was similar to what was used by one of the former Cardinals executives. Correa gained access to a database that contained scouting reports, amateur player evaluations, notes on trade discussions and proposed bonuses for draft picks. The U.S. Attorney’s office put the estimated value of the cybertheft at $1.7 million.

Judge Hughes’ indignation at Correa’s actions was evident at his sentencing. As Correa read a letter of apology to the court, the judge interjected some of his words to characterize Correa’s actions: “intentionally, over a long period time, stupidly.”

The key takeaway from this case is that digital theft of trade secrets is a serious matter that can have serious ramifications, including jail time. There seems to be a prevailing attitude, particularly among some younger people, that digital theft of trade secrets really isn’t that big a deal, certainly not something that merits incarceration.

While I do believe the punishment in this high-profile case was pretty stiff, I don’t see this as the only time this could happen. The threat is real. It’s important to understand that there are laws against digital theft of information and procedures in place that can result in severe, life-changing punishments. In fact, the potential for getting into legal trouble has expanded with the recent passage of the Defend Trade Secrets Act (DTSA), which I wrote about earlier this year.

The fallout from this cyber-crime may not be over. Next up to bat? Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred will decide if the Cardinals face sanctions because of Correa’s actions.

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