Potentially Planted Evidence, Memory Lapses, and Unwanted Memorabilia: the Latest from the IRobot-Robotic FX Files
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A. From what I understand, yes.
Q. But it’s your sworn testimony that you never laid eyes on this fixture before, correct?
A. That is correct.
Q. Do you have any explanation as to how this item might have got into a dumpster a block away from Ms. Hill’s apartment on the morning of the 18th?
A. The only explanation I have, sir, is earlier that day after exiting the restaurant that Ms. Kimberly Hill and I and her mother were attending, when the valet brought the car back, the trunk was open. It was physically open, and I had asked the valet if he had anything to do with that, and he said, no, that he had never opened the trunk and I can only imagine that this was possibly planted.
Q. So it’s your theory that someone planted this fixture in Ms. Hill’s trunk?
A. That’s the only explanation I can come up with.
Q. While you were at breakfast on August 18?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. Do you have any evidence of that whatsoever?
A. I do not sir, no.
A bit later in the transcript, Cordell returned to the welding tool issue. Ahed again denied that the device found in the dumpster was his, pointing out an apparent mismatch between the profile of that track-welding device and that of the track used by Robotic FX.
Q. And, again, your explanation for this is that someone made this fixture and then planted it among the materials that you had taken from Robotic FX to then dispose of on August 18?
A. Yes, sir.
On Beating U.S. Marshals to the Scene of the Search
Soon after iRobot’s detectives had spotted Ahed throwing items into the dumpster, the company went back to U.S. District Court in Alabama and got a temporary restraining order. On Tuesday, August 21, U.S. Marshals, in conjunction with iRobot attorneys and some computer forensics experts hired by iRobot, searched Robotic FX headquarters, Ahed’s parents’ home, and Hill’s apartment.
According to Ahed’s testimony on September 24, when the party left Ahed’s parents’ house on the roughly 45-minute drive to Hill’s Chicago apartment, Ahed and Hill drove there in Hill’s car, parking behind the unit and going in the back door. Hill then went to the front door to await the party, while Ahed was left alone in the apartment. Ahed went into Hill’s bedroom, closed up his old laptop, whose hard drive he had erased and which was still on and running. He put the computer in its case and placed it under Hill’s bed.
“Out of the plain view, correct?” Cordell asked in the September 19 deposition.
A. I wouldn’t consider it out of plain view, but…
Q. Well, out of view of anybody’s who’s not looking under the bed, correct?
A. Well, yes.
Q. You understood that the marshals were about to search Miss Hill’s apartment, correct?
A. That is correct.
Q. And you understood that by placing the laptop under the bed, you made it less likely for them to find it, correct?
It’s not hard to imagine how important iRobot’s attorneys think that computer hard drive might have been. At the September 20 hearing in Boston, Cordell put it this way: “We think it’s a key piece of evidence that he deliberately destroyed.”
As far as the hiding of the laptop under Hill’s bed despite the temporary restraining order prohibiting him from tampering with any evidence goes, Cordell made no bones about that being a potential criminal act: “Mr. Ahed intentionally concealed, he tried to hide it from the marshals. He had full knowledge of the TRO as of that moment. We feel that is a very substantial act that is certainly in violation of the TRO and perhaps at worst an obstruction.”
On iRobot Using Ahed as a Contractor After He Left the Company and Possibly Forgoing a Confidentiality Agreement
In the transcript of the September 24 hearing in Boston, Robotic FX attorney Patricia Kane Schmidt, of Jason Alexander Engel, was examining iRobot witness Thomas Frost, program manager of the PackBot robot (the robot whose patents iRobot claims Robotic FX’s device infringes upon). Schmidt questioned Frost about a time after Ahed had left iRobot when he did work building joysticks for the PackBot.
Q. Mr. Frost, you’re aware that iRobot sent materials to Mr. Ahed in order for him to make joysticks in 2002?
A. Yes, I am. [Editor’s note: Frost had previously explained that he didn’t see anything competitive about what Robotic FX was doing, that from the descriptions he had seen the company was providing component-level hardware for hobby-grade robots.]
Q. And there was no confidentiality agreement between Robotic FX and iRobot or Mr. Ahed and iRobot at that time, correct?
A. I don’t recall if there was or not.
Q. You don’t know that there was one, correct?
A. I don’t specifically recall that there was one.”
The Court: (Judge Nancy Gertner): Why isn’t the one that he was under when he signed onto iRobot to begin with, why doesn’t that cover anything further?
Schmidt: “Your Honor, at that time Mr. Ahed had left the company.”
Gertner: “I see. So any information he received after acquired information was not under the confidentiality agreement, okay.”