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Credit Worker Accused of Espionage

March 21, 2001

NEW YORK (AP) _ In a case of international espionage with no state secrets at stake, a food services worker at Mastercard’s headquarters is accused of trying to sell a billion dollar trade secret to the company’s chief competitor _ Visa.

The accusations were revealed Wednesday in charges federal prosecutors brought against Fausto Estrada, 37, a Bronx man who had worked for a company that provides food and beverage catering services to Mastercard.

Estrada was released on $25,000 bail as U.S. Magistrate Judge Ronald L. Ellis in Manhattan rejected requests for a $100,000 bail by a prosecutor who insisted Estrada might flee to the Dominican Republic, where his mother and 11 siblings live.

Estrada’s lawyer, Philip Weinstein, told the judge, ``This was hardly the most sophisticated scheme in the world.″

``This was not a master covert operation,″ Weinstein said outside court, declining to comment further.

A sealed complaint charged Estrada with theft of trade secrets, mail fraud and interstate transportation of stolen property and portrayed Estrada as a man cloaking his identity like an international spy.

It said he insisted he be identified only as ``Cagliostro″ in materials sent Feb. 17 from the Bronx to Visa International offices in Foster City, Calif. The package carried a warning that it should only be opened by Visa’s president.

In a letter inside the package, he allegedly demanded $100,000 for Mastercard secrets for the years 1999 and 2000 and another $100,000 for what he promised was a lot of valuable information for this year.

Included in this year’s materials would be a business alliance proposal between Mastercard and a large U.S. entertainment corporation which Estrada promised would be very new and very confidential, the complaint signed by FBI Agent Larissa L. Mentzer said.

The letter also offered to record live meetings at Mastercard if Visa provided the necessary equipment, the complaint said.

Estrada gave Visa 45 days to make a deal before the offer would be made to another Mastercard competitor, prosecutors asserted.

Security workers at Visa forwarded the package to the FBI, which telephoned a contact telephone number and left a message, prosecutors said.

Mentzer said she contacted Mastercard, which confirmed that the planned business alliance with an entertainment company existed and that it was highly sensitive and confidential in nature.

The agent said Mastercard and the company had met at Mastercard headquarters in Purchase, N.Y., earlier this year to discuss the proposal worth more than $1 billion and had created a confidential document outlining the planned alliance and marked each page ``confidential.″

Posing as a Visa representative, an FBI agent allegedly had telephone conversations with Estrada and received two more packages before setting up a hotel room meeting to exchange money for the stolen documents.

Estrada was arrested Tuesday night on charges related to the Economic Espionage Act of 1996, passed to discourage economic espionage in the public and private sectors.

In a statement, U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White said the arrest proves ``employees cannot expect to profit from the illicit theft of valuable and sensitive trade secrets from corporations without facing criminal charges.″

She called economic espionage a ``multibillion dollar threat to American businesses and jobs and will not be tolerated.″

Mastercard spokeswoman Sharon Gamsun said she could not comment directly about the arrest.

``We think our security system and procedures are solid. Obviously, we will take a look at them to make sure there is nothing else we can do,″ she added.

A message left with a Visa spokesman was not immediately returned.

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