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A jury in San Jose, Calif., convicted seven men Tuesday for conspiracy and armed robbery of several high-tech companies, but acquitted an eighth whose attorney successfully argued the defendant was the victim of identity theft. Tuesday’s convictions mark the latest in a string of chip theft and robbery prosecutions by the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The convictions also conclude a multiagency investigation that the U.S. Attorney’s Office credits with solving 150 chip thefts and robberies in the Silicon Valley, said Elizabeth de la Vega, the U.S. Attorney’s San Jose bureau chief. Law enforcement and prosecutors in the Silicon Valley — along with investigators in other high-tech spots including Boston and Raleigh-Durham, N.C. — have been investigating and prosecuting chip and component theft for the last decade. De la Vega and other prosecutors said the heists have become less violent but are still big business. “It’s definitely more sophisticated,” de la Vega said. “There’s still a lot of thefts.” Silicon Valley prosecutors say chip and component theft cases can be challenging because of the shroud of silence surrounding the so-called “gray market,” where stolen components are unloaded along with legal merchandise. Prosecutors say jurors, especially in the Santa Clara Valley, can sometimes identify with defendants who traffic in computers and other high-tech goods. However, that wasn’t the case in U.S. v. Nhan Le Tran, 98-20060, de la Vega said. She said the challenging part of this case was piecing together phone records, hotel, merchandise and car rental receipts linking the defendants with the crime. “It was a historical conspiracy case. We had to put together all this evidence,” de la Vega said. “It’s like putting a puzzle together with really small puzzle pieces.” The prosecution also relied on three former defendants turned witnesses who identified the victims as culprits in the crimes. But the key to convincing jurors, de la Vega said, was the paper trail. In 1998, 17 people were indicted for the robberies as well as tax fraud and financial structuring. Eight stood trial for the robbery and conspiracy counts on the indictment in April. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Rebecca Hardie, Eumi Choi and Adam Braun were able to tie the group to the 1993 robbery of Oki Semiconductor outside Portland, Ore., where masked gunmen tied up workers and removed $9 million in merchandise. The seven were also convicted of robbing San Jose’s Smart Module of $1 million worth of computer components in December 1990 and of a $1 million robbery of Pragmatech Software Inc. in San Jose in May 1993. However, one defendant was able to avoid conviction. San Francisco attorney Randolph Daar convinced the jury that his client, Thi Van Do, did not take part in the robbery of Oki Semiconductor on Oct. 31, 1993, despite testimony from an FBI agent and a San Jose police sergeant that Do confessed. Daar relied on alibi witnesses, even submitting Halloween photos of his client with his family for the past decade. He also submitted evidence showing the jury that someone else continued to use his client’s name after the October heist, checking into a hospital six months after the Oki robbery and receiving a traffic ticket. The prosecution’s three witnesses were also only able to identify Do’s name — not his face — during the trial. Daar said the jury’s not-guilty verdict points to potential wrongdoing and possible perjury. “It’s pretty damning,” said Daar, a partner with Serra Lichter Daar Bustamante Michael and Wilson. However, de la Vega said she suspects no wrongdoing: “We don’t think there was any perjury by an FBI agent in this case.” The U.S. Attorney’s Office will now push forward with the prosecution of the second half of the indictment against some of the defendants on financial structuring and tax charges.

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