Ga. Co. Accuses Milliken of Spying
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) _ A Georgia textile company is suing textile giant Milliken & Co., claiming it used corporate spies posing as an investment banker and graduate student to steal trade secrets and customers.
The suit by Johnston Industries of Columbus, Ga., reads like a spy novel, including claiming that the corporate espionage had a code name: ``Project Meteor.″
Milliken, based in Spartanburg, S.C., referred questions to company spokesman Richard Dillard, who was away from his office and unavailable for comment.
Johnston filed the suit Wednesday in Columbus’ neighboring city of Phenix City, Ala., where three of the company’s plants are located and where it contends most of the alleged spying occurred.
The Johnston suit is a sequel to a corporate espionage suit that NRB Industries of New York filed against Milliken last year. Milliken settled that suit in January, but documents in the case indicated Johnston Industries had received the same treatment, Johnston President D. Clark Ogle said Thursday.
Both suits accused Milliken of using Atlanta investigator R.A. Taylor and one of his former assistants, Justin Waldrep, to infiltrate the companies. In the case of Johnston, Taylor posed as an investment banker representing potential European investors and Waldrep posed as a Georgia State University graduate student in business who was working on a research project, Ogle said.
``They were given access throughout the company. ... In some cases, they were sent to visit our customers,″ he said.
Taylor did not immediately return a phone message left at his business.
Waldrep, contacted by phone, confirmed that he had worked for Taylor in connection with Johnston Industries, but declined comment on the suit because he had not yet been served with a copy.
Johnston has annual revenue of $330 million and 2,500 employees, with more than 2,000 of them at its six plants in Alabama. It makes tablecloths and napkins, as well as material used to cover seats in cars and planes. The suit claims some of the trade secrets that were taken involved the increased absorbency of napkins and the development of the seat material.
The company’s attorney, Jere Beasley, estimated the company lost $30 million as a result of spying.
Milliken is South Carolina’s largest privately held company, with estimated annual sales of $2 billion. Its chairman, Roger Milliken, routinely makes Forbes magazine’s list of the 400 wealthiest Americans.