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11 charged over 'biggest-ever' MS piracy bust

Operation Digital Marauder

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Eleven people from across the US were indicted on Wednesday over alleged software piracy offences following the largest seizure of counterfeit Microsoft software to date.

FBI officers seized $80m worth of pirate Microsoft software in series of raids last month following a two-year investigation into a US-wide software piracy ring. Pirated Adobe and Symantec software worth an estimated $7m was also recovered during ‘Operation Digital Marauder' which involved the execution of three search warrants and the arrest of 11 individuals in California, Washington and Texas.

The suspects were allegedly responsible for a wide variety of software piracy operations, including unauthorised media replication, printing of counterfeit documentation and distribution of counterfeit software. Pirated copies of packages including Microsoft Office, Windows Server and SQL Server were allegedly produced on an industrial scale by the gang.

The indicted defendants, including Tobias Grace, 30, of Vancouver, Washington, and Sanh Thai of Los Angeles, California, allegedly set up a counterfeit replication site in the Los Angeles area, where they produced counterfeit Adobe and Symantec CDs. This replication site was raided by the FBI's Los Angeles office in April 2004, and equipment was seized.

Grace and Thai allegedly contacted a San Francisco printer, Thanh Tuong, who is accused of printing counterfeit documentation for Microsoft server products and other software products on their behalf. These documents were then allegedly delivered to a number of customers, including Arnica Grace, Tobias Grace's sister, in Austin, Texas, for distribution.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports that Microsoft became aware of the scam around three years ago, when purchasers of the counterfeit software asked for technical support, only to be told they'd purchased pirated goods. Company investigators assisted the FBI in its investigation. An undercover operative who acted as a middleman in transactions was instrumental in breaking the case, the paper reports.

Tobias Grace was named in an earlier indictment alleging that he illegally obtained software from Microsoft employees who abused Microsoft's internal ordering systems to obtain the products for virtually nothing. No connection was made to Microsoft's internal ordering system in the latest indictment, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports.

The 11 suspects are due for arraignment on Monday 20 September in Los Angeles on various charges that carry maximum sentences of between 15 to 75 years on conviction. ®

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