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Microsoft trash caper
June 16, 2000: 6:39 p.m. ET

Woman offered to buy trash from office of Microsoft-linked trade group
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NEW YORK (CNNfn) - A woman offered to buy the trash of a trade group in Washington associated with Microsoft in an apparent attempt to gain information about the software giant's activities in its antitrust case with the government.

Jonathan Zuck, president of the Association for Competitive Technology, on Friday confirmed a report in The Wall Street Journal that a woman identifying herself as Blanca Lopez offered money to members of a cleaning crew to buy bags of trash from the trade group's offices. While many technology firms belong to ACT, the group is heavily funded by Microsoft.

According to the Journal, Lopez first offered to pay the cleaning crew members between $50 and $60 each for the trash. That offer went up to $500 for each of two cleaners on the night before Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson issued his ruling that ordered a breakup of the software giant, the newspaper said.

The ACT's Zuck said Friday that the cleaning crew rejected both offers to buy the trash, and that it is unlikely that the effort would have yielded anything sensitive about Microsoft (MSFT: Research, Estimates).

"We don't have exclusive documents," Zuck told Reuters. "We don't shred our trash and still won't after this."

"People will try to get information any way they can," said Microsoft spokesman Rick Miller. "Our competitors clearly were involved in a coordinated effort to really attack Microsoft" in the antitrust case, he said.

Link to Investigative Group International

The cleaners said that Blanca Lopez asked them to bring the bags of trash to Upstream Technologies, a company on the same floor in the building, according to the Journal. The newspaper article linked Upstream Technologies to Investigative Group International, an investigation firm led by Terry Lenzner. George Vradenburg, senior vice president for global and strategic policy at America Online (AOL: Research, Estimates), a Microsoft rival in the Internet access market, sits on a special board of advisers created by IGI.

AOL spokesman Andrew Weinstein said the inference that AOL attempted to spy on Microsoft is "ridiculous and untrue."

"Vradenburg offered to serve as an honorary member of that board as a favor to a friend. He has never attended a single board meeting," Weinstein said. "He has no knowledge or involvement with the work of IGI or its clients."

An attorney for Upstream told CNNfn that Lopez was not employed by Upstream, which was incorporated in Delaware in March. Lopez's attorney would not comment.

Break-in attempt at Microsoft's offices

In what may be a completely separate incident, a Microsoft executive told CNNfn that someone tampered with the doors leading to the executive suites of its Washington lobbying office last weekend. There is no evidence that anyone broke through the doors or that they had entered executives' suites, he said.

A spokesman with the Washington Metropolitan Police Department confirmed Microsoft's account and said authorities are investigating the incident. Someone did, however, steal a laptop computer and cash from two other companies on the second and third floors of the building over the weekend, said spokesman Sgt. Joe Gentile of the MPD, who classified the incident as an office theft.

Gentile said police are not investigating the reported effort to buy trash from the trade group, since buying trash is not illegal.

A stern warning on stock value

Separately, Microsoft warned Friday that if it does not prevail in its appeal of the breakup order and get a postponement of the interim restrictions imposed on its business practices pending an appeal, its stock could suffer.

In addition to the breakup, U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Jackson imposed a series of restrictions on the way Microsoft conducts business practices, which aim to prevent the company from using its power in the PC operating systems market to throttle its competition. Microsoft has requested a stay of those restrictions pending its appeal of the breakup order.

In documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Microsoft said that while it expects to obtain relief from some or all of the provisions in the final judgment, "failure to obtain sufficient relief through the stay and/or the appeal could have a material adverse effect on the value of Microsoft's common stock." Back to top

-- Reuters contributed to this story