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Tesla sues former employee for $1 million over trade secret theft

Kirsten Korosec
The British diving expert, who Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk called a "pedo

Tesla is suing a former employee for $1 million, alleging the man hacked the company’s confidential and trade secret information and transferred that information to third parties, according to court documents. The lawsuit also claims the employee leaked false information to the media.

The lawsuit against the former process technician Martin Tripp was filed Wednesday in Nevada. Tesla declined to comment on the lawsuit, which was first reported by CNBC.

The lawsuit only lists the legal team representing Tesla. Efforts to reach Tripp have so far been unsuccessful.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has made allegations of sabotage and filed lawsuits against former employees claiming theft before, at least one of which was dropped after the parties reached an agreement and no wrongdoing was discovered. Earlier this week, Musk sent an email, which CNBC first reported on, about a factory fire and referenced possible sabotage. Another email from Musk alleged that he had discovered a saboteur at the company.

Two years ago, an investigation into possible sabotage was launched at Musk's other company, SpaceX, after a rocket exploded while being fueled up.

And in Musk's view, sabotage is a forever looming and real threat.

Musk tweeted Wednesday that "there is more," referring to sabotage at the company. "There is more, but the actions of a few bad apples will not stop Tesla from reaching its goals," he tweeted. "With 40,000 people, the worst 1 in 1000 will have issues. That's still ~ 40 people."

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According to the lawsuit, Tesla has only begun to understand the full scope of Tripp’s illegal activity. The lawsuit claims Tripp has "admitted to writing software that hacked Tesla’s manufacturing operating system (“MOS”) and to transferring several gigabytes of Tesla data to outside entities."

The confidential data includes "dozens" of photographs and a video of Tesla’s manufacturing systems. Tesla alleges that Tripp wrote computer code to periodically export Tesla’s data off its network and into the hands of third parties. And the lawsuit says Tripp made false claims to the media about the information he stole.

"For example, Tripp claimed that punctured battery cells had been used in certain Model 3 vehicles even though no punctured cells were ever used in vehicles, batteries or otherwise," Tesla claims in the lawsuit. "Tripp also vastly exaggerated the true amount and value of 'scrap' material that Tesla generated during the manufacturing process, and falsely claimed that Tesla was delayed in bringing new manufacturing equipment online."

Tesla appears to be referring to a Business Insider story on June 4 about internal documents showing the company expects that as much as 40 percent of the raw materials used in battery and driving unit production would need to be scrapped or reworked.

Tesla claims that Tripp, who was hired in October 2017 at the company's massive battery factory near Reno, committed these acts out of retaliation for being reassigned to a different job.