Chesapeake alleges founder McClendon stole 'trade secrets' to start new firm

Tue Feb 17, 2015 6:09pm EST
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By Brian Grow

OKLAHOMA CITY (Reuters) - Chesapeake Energy Corp filed suit Tuesday alleging its founder and former chief executive, Aubrey K. McClendon, stole confidential company data during his last months on the job in order to launch his new oil and gas empire.

McClendon, 55, "misappropriated highly sensitive trade secrets from Chesapeake" and "subsequently used these trade secrets for the benefit of" a company he founded in 2013, American Energy Partners LP, according to the civil complaint filed by Chesapeake(CHK.N: Quote) in Oklahoma County District Court.

In the suit, Chesapeake claims that McClendon asked his assistant to print maps and data about unleased acreage and that McClendon also sent himself blind copies of the same documents at a personal email address during his last months at the company. The company says it discovered McClendon's actions through a forensic analysis of his Chesapeake email account.

Chesapeake alleges the information was used by McClendon and American Energy Partners to acquire drilling rights on land in the Utica Shale formation in four separate transactions.

In a statement, McClendon characterized the lawsuit as baseless and said his severance agreement with the company included "the right to own and use this information." He said he intended to vigorously contest the lawsuit.

The suit represents the latest drama in the very public falling out between McClendon and Chesapeake, the company he co-founded in 1989 and built into the second largest natural gas producer in the United States. During his tenure at Chesapeake, McClendon was hailed as a visionary who helped pioneer the drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

In 2012, a series of Reuters investigations found that McClendon had taken but not publicly disclosed $1.55 billion in personal loans from a major financier of the company. He helped run a hedge fund to personally trade oil and gas. And emails reviewed by the news agency showed McClendon collaborated with a rival firm in a bid to suppress land prices in a prospective oil and gas play in Michigan.

Although an internal investigation of his activities found no "intentional" wrongdoing, McClendon agreed to step down as CEO on Jan. 29, 2013.   Continued...

Former CEO and Co-founder of Chesapeake Energy Corporation Aubrey McClendon walks through the French Quarter in New Orleans, Louisiana in this file photo taken on March 26, 2012. REUTERS/Sean Gardner