Man accused of rebranding, marketing copyrighted system as his own
In a twist of fate, MOHSEP employee Kyle Jones was discovered to have taken intellectual property from the city-parish after his bosses met with a disaster management contractor who was in the process of buying software from Jones.
The software Jones was trying to sell as his own was actually copyrighted software belonging to the city-parish, according to a report from the Mayor’s Office of Homeland Security outlining an internal investigation into Jones.
Jones could not be reached for comment.
The six-page report obtained by The Advocate on Friday, dated April 14 and on MOHSEP letterhead, does not mention any investigation into Parish Attorney Mary Roper.
She was asked to take a leave of absence, after an internal investigation found she had sent emails containing the internal software source code to her husband, another city-parish employee, who has a background in computer software.
Roper’s husband, Eiad Odeh, was also not mentioned in the report.
The scheme involving Jones began to unravel when representatives from the Mayor’s Office, MOHSEP and CB&I, which was formally Shaw Environmental, met on March 21 to discuss the status of a debris monitoring contract.
CB&I officials informed city-parish officials they were in the process of buying software from a company that would be “first of its kind for hazard mitigation work.” They said the new software would be included in their contract with the city-parish, according to the report.
Tuesday Mills, MOHSEP deputy director, who attended the meeting, returned to the MOHSEP office where she shared the update with her staff. At that point, Jones disclosed it was his firm that was working with CB&I to develop the software.
“Kyle Jones expressed his excitement that there was a scheduled closing,” the report said. “He later advised his co-workers he would be making $500,000 with this sale and couldn’t believe his software was being discussed in the mayor’s office.”
Jones was ultimately placed on administrative leave with pay March 27. Officials subsequently searched his emails, telephone logs and text messages.
The investigation found he used TRACE 360, a copyrighted software developed by city-parish employees and used by MOHSEP, and attempted to sell it as his own software under the name of GRANTWARE, “with a modified logo,” according to the report.
Jones also was found to have “accessed, scanned and transferred official office documents” to his personal email address and numerous business email addresses and to have shared that information with business partners.
The report says further that Jones used city-parish time and resources to promote his software.
Jones’ duties as chief of operations included management of day-to-day operations and oversight of accounting, time management, training programs and quality control, according to the report.
He used the TRACE 360 software, which is used for “tracking, input, accountability, time management, meeting records, reporting and financial reporting.”
The report says TRACE 360 is the “result of 10 years of work performed with city-parish funds.”
William Daniel, chief administrative officer for Mayor-President Kip Holden, said Thursday the administration is still trying to determine if a crime has been committed.
“Once we make a decision, we will immediately inform the proper authorities if a crime has been committed,” he said.
Mark Thurmon, an intellection property law professor at Southern University Law Center, said taking credit for copyrighted materials and trying to profit from it amounts to copyright infringement, which is typically a civil claim. That means that while Jones could be sued for damages by the city-parish, he could avoid criminal charges, Thurmon said.
The Metro Council is still mulling its options with Roper, the parish attorney. The council can remove her with a majority vote.
Roper said Monday she had done nothing wrong and was dealing with the source code because she was in the process of registering for a copyright for the TRACE 360 program. The copyright was acquired in 2011.
Roper said she shared the source code with her husband because he has a background in computer software and could advise her on the complicated source code issues.
Thurmon confirmed that source codes are often required in order to obtain copyrights for software programs.
Roper also noted the source codes were a public record, so sharing them with her husband would have been of little consequence.
Thurmond agreed source codes become a public record once they are submitted for copyright or patent application. He noted that doesn’t mean people are free to use them.
He also said that if Roper shared the codes with her husband before they were submitted to the U.S. Copyright Office, it’s possible they weren’t a public record yet. But Thurmond said submitting the software for copyright is just one of many ways it could become a public record.