MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - The son of Shelby County's public works director pleaded guilty to hacking his former employer's computer network in violation of federal law.
Jason Needham, 45, a design engineer, admitted that between 2014 and 2016, he repeatedly hacked the file-sharing network and email accounts of Memphis engineering and architecture firm Allen & Hoshall. Needham worked for the firm until his resignation in 2013 to launch his own engineering firm, HNA Engineering.
According to a 'court information' outlining his plea, Needham accessed and compromised an Allen & Hoshall employee's email account. From the account, Needham stole marketing proposals, client correspondence, and the rotating password credentials to the firm's FTP (File Transfer Protocol) server. Federal prosecutors said Needham hacked the FTP server to steal 82 AutoCAD files. The files included Allen & Hoshall design schematics, job bids, and other proprietary content.
"This was done intentionally," Assistant U.S. Attorney Debra Ireland said. "He circumvented the system to repeatedly access A&H files."
"And he had been doing it two or three times a day for three years," said Allen & Hoshall President Harry Pratt. Pratt said his firm grew suspicious when a prospective client received a proposal from Needham that incorporated the exact same language as one from Allen & Hoshall. His IT staff found a breach of the firm's computer network and reported it to the FBI. An FBI investigation determined Needham hacked the network, compromising both employee and client information.
"To have that stuff stolen from us is significant," Pratt said. "It's very damaging to our profession and reputation."
Needham is the son of Shelby County Public Works Director Tom Needham. Tom Needham was the president of Allen & Hoshall before he entered public service. Both of them declined to comment on the advice of their attorneys.
Pratt said Jason Needham's actions betrayed not only Pratt and the firm, but also Pratt's friendship and work relationship with Needham's father. "It has strained a lot of relationships, personal and professional," said Pratt.
Needham agreed to pay Allen & Hoshall nearly $140,000 in restitution and to cover the cost of an identity theft protection service for former colleagues whose identities may have been compromised. He waived his rights to a grand jury, a trial, and an appeal of his sentence. U.S. District Court Judge John T. Fowlkes scheduled Needham's sentencing for July 14. The charge of violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act is a felony that carries a maximum five years in federal prison and $250,000 in fines. Ireland said he would likely be charged on the low end of the sentencing range for admitting to the fraud.