David Nosal

SAN FRANCISCO — Former Korn Ferry International executive recruiter David Nosal is making a last-ditch effort to stay out of prison.

Nosal’s criminal conviction for trade secret theft and violating a federal anti-hacking statute was upheld in 2016 by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review his case in October.

But on Wednesday, Nosal’s lawyer, Steven Gruel, filed court papers asking a federal judge in San Francisco to reduce or set aside his client’s prison sentence. Gruel argued that Korn Ferry, a pre-eminent name in the world of executive recruiting, just last year hired a recruiter from a competitor who was accused of behavior similar to what landed Nosal a one-year-and-one-day prison sentence.

According to the filing, current Korn Ferry executive Francois Truc was accused in a civil suit filed in state court in Chicago of taking proprietary and confidential information at the direction of Korn Ferry when he left his former employer, Spencer Stuart, in March 2017.

Wednesday’s filing attempts to draw a parallel between that civil case, which settled confidentially, and Nosal’s case, where Korn Ferry handed over an internal investigation to federal prosecutors and urged criminal prosecution.

“In light of that fact that it was KFI that initiated the prosecution of David Nosal, assisted with its execution, and was essentially driving these proceedings, it would be outrageous to send Nosal to prison while KFI’s own criminal behavior goes completely unchecked,” Gruel wrote.

Dan Gugler, a spokesman for Korn Ferry, didn’t immediately respond to messages Thursday.

Nosal’s criminal prosecution came after he left Korn Ferry, where he was a regional director, to secretly start a rival recruiting business. Other former Korn Ferry employees who were working with Nosal used a secretary’s password to access a proprietary database to build the new outfit’s lists of job candidates.

A San Francisco jury convicted Nosal in 2013 of violating the CFAA and stealing trade secrets. U.S. District Judge Edward Chen of the Northern District of California sentenced him to 366 days in 2014 after federal prosecutors asked the judge to “send a message.

“Simply put, the Court sentenced Mr. Nosal to prison, at the government’s urging, to send a message for general deterrence. Stealing of trade secrets would not be tolerated and fully prosecuted,” wrote Gruel in Wednesday’s filing.

“Yet, Korn Ferry, obviously aware of the Court’s clear message, nonetheless ignored this warning and was subsequently caught stealing trade secrets from an executive search competitor. While Mr. Nosal was criminally prosecuted and sentenced to prison, Korn Ferry’s theft was, by contrast, quickly resolved by civil lawsuit.”

Gruel didn’t respond to a phone message Thursday.