*NEWS*SCC CHIP LAWSUIT ,DECEIT & INTRIGUE

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*NEWS*SCC CHIP LAWSUIT ,DECEIT & INTRIGUE

 user 2006-08-17 at 1:44:00 pm Views: 117
  • #15967

    Chip suit details deceit, intrigue
    A suit accuses two local businessmen of selling counterfeit computer chips under a company led by a figurehead.
    Two bay area businessmen have been accused of buying a competitor’s computer chips, hiring a Russian engineer to extract the software code, manufacturing and selling counterfeit copies, and using a homeless ex-con from St. Petersburg as a legal front man.A lawsuit under way in federal court in Tampa accuses Steven Miller, 45, and friend Robert Rauber, 50, of stealing business from a Sanford, N.C., company that makes components used to restore spent toner cartridges. To cover their tracks, the suit claims, Miller used a power-of-attorney form to wrest legal control over a homeless day laborer named David Abraham, registered him as president of a newly formed chip company and proceeded, with Rauber, to conduct an illegal business enterprise in the figurehead’s name.”David Abraham was the alter ego of Mr. Miller,” said Skip London, general counsel of Static Control Components, the North Carolina company that filed the lawsuit.Miller, reached late Thursday, called the lawsuit part of a conspiracy by several of his former employees and Static Control to steal multiple inventions he has patented for use with printers.”Static Control would love to see me out of business because they would like to steal my patents, which are worth billions, not millions, of dollars,” he said.Andrew Greenberg, an attorney for Miller and Abraham, called his clients legitimate businessmen. He portrayed Abraham, now 55, as an American success story who refused to accept charity and, with Miller’s encouragement, formed a prosperous Pinellas Park chipmaking company, Inter Solution Ventures, en route to creating “an extraordinary life.” Rauber’s attorney called a racketeering claim against the defendants “outrageous.”Public records portray a different side of Abraham. The St. Petersburg resident has been arrested 25 times since 1985, was incarcerated twice while purportedly running Inter Solution, and will be arraigned later this month for allegedly engaging in a lewd act on a crowded Treasure Island beach. Abraham currently lives in a room at the low-budget Venice Motel on 34th Street N, even as former colleagues Rauber and Miller reside in a $1.4-million Palm Harbor home and a $1-million waterfront house in Tierra Verde, respectively.Welcome to the brass-knuckled world of reconditioned toner cartridges, where the market for cheap alternatives is nearly boundless, the line between legal and illegal copying is paper-thin, and people with little or no experience can quickly become players.Infringement claims are rife in the industry, and many chipmakers parry lawsuits as well as prosecute them. When Static Control first sued Inter Solution in 2004, for example – the case was transferred from federal court in Durham, N.C., to Tampa last month – Static was defending itself against a similar action filed by the printer manufacturing giant Lexmark.In a legal twist, Static Control’s suit targeted Inter Solution’s knockoff of its own Lexmark imitations. Static Control prevailed over Lexmark last year.”The idea in software has always been, you take the product of your competitor, you take it apart, you completely figure out how it works, and write your own version,” said Greenberg, the Carlton Fields attorney representing Miller and Abraham.In terms of pedigree, Static Control and its bay area foes are different breeds. Static Control, a family-owned company formed in 1986, has 1,100 employees, annual revenues of more than $300-million and several awards from local business publications. Investment bankers routinely approach it about going public. Inter Solution was formed in 2002.Miller operates a Pinellas Park auto-repair shop called Platinum Wrench. Rauber – a longtime friend who, along with Miller, made the front page in 1995 of the St. Petersburg Times when their single-engine plane crashed into Tampa Bay – had been a painting contractor as well as a service manager at Miller’s shop. Both men have been arrested at least twice. Rauber was imprisoned more than two years in the early 1980s for fatally striking a bicyclist with his car, fleeing the scene and allegedly dismantling the vehicle to conceal evidence.Attempts to reach Rauber and Abraham through their attorneys were unsuccessful. But interviews with the lawyers and a review of court filings provide a picture of their venture with Miller.Greenberg said chipmaking was Miller’s idea but not meant for his own benefit. He saw it as a way to “help his friend” Abraham get off the streets. Using Static Control’s chips as a model made sense, he added, because it was virtually the only company offering less expensive alternatives to Lexmark’s toner cartridge chips. Moreover, Static Control was temporarily prohibited from selling the chips, thanks to Lexmark’s suit against it.”Suddenly, this small business out of Pinellas Park was the only one serving a multibillion-dollar market,” Greenberg said.Static Control says Miller saw Abraham as a convenient dupe. Court documents allege Miller and Rauber assumed Abraham’s identity to set up bank accounts and sue a competitor. The pair even pretended to be him or his son when customers demanded to talk with the boss. Miller allegedly decided to “kill off” Abraham’s character after Static Control filed suit, telling customers the president had pancreatic cancer. Miller then allegedly told Rauber to form Chips Inc. and transfer Inter Solution’s assets to it.Brian Gilchrist, Rauber’s lawyer and the managing partner of Orlando-based Allen Dyer, said his client had nothing to do with designing Inter Solution’s chip software. He claimed Static Control is targeting Rauber largely so it can put Tarpon Springs-based Chips out of business.”If Static can tie him up with legal fees, they gain a competitive advantage,” he said. “From what I understand, his chips are that good.”