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Kohler counterplot catches criminals.

A dash of legal savvy, a pinch of patience, and a dot of technology--actually, a microdot of technology--allowed Kohler Company of Kohler, WI, to cook up a skillful sting operation aimed at snaring the perpetrators of an alleged internal theft enterprise.

The case, culminating in charges filed last month in the Circuit Court of Sheboygan County, involves two employees who set up their own company through which they were allegedly selling pilfered Kohler products.

After receiving an employee tip early in July, Kohler faced the challenge of substantiating its suspicions. Management was able to verify the existence of the outside company, operating since July 1991, with the Wisconsin Secretary of State, but proving that the company was misappropriating Kohler products would not be easy.

One impediment was the putative criminals' relationship within the company. "This was a conspiracy involving a supervisor and direct employee, so they were circumventing all established policies and procedures at the company," explains Mark Powers, manager--security for Kohler.

The workers in question were allegedly evading not only safeguards designed to track inventory but also the internal marking procedures. Consequently, items being taken bore no company imprint. Arranging for the surreptitious application of identifiers using standard technology presented a problem, says Powers, as there were no hiding places on the items.

The company turned to microdot technology--a process that creates microscopic, laser-generated inventory markings encased in silicone. When affixed with rubber adhesive to company assets, the dots become passive identifiers invisible to the naked eye.

Of equal importance was the company's coordination of its efforts with local law enforcement and prosecutors. Because the goal was to obtain a search warrant, Kohler actively involved law enforcement officials and briefed the district attorney about the microdot plan before setting up the sting operation.

An inventory of the microdotted items, including photographs, was recorded. Then the waiting game began. Kohler officials sat back as the microdotted merchandise was removed over a two-week period. Search warrant in hand, security then joined local law enforcement officials in an investigation of the outside company's premises.

"They thought that we would never be able to prove the product was actually Kohler Company's," says Powers. Once the microdots were located, however, the individual on the premises confessed. The microdots, with customized company markings, cost Kohler $900 for a package of 1,000 dots. That included the equipment needed to apply the markings, catalog them, relocate them, and remove them for use in court. Powers notes that only 40 dots were used in the sting operation, which netted $15,000 in missing property. It is estimated that $25,000 worth of stolen tools may ultimately be recovered from the operation.

As a result of the experience, Powers says Kohler will also be enhancing the security of its property pass program. Under the program, individuals leaving the plant present a property pass signed by a supervisor. The pass confirms the need to remove the property.

The case in question involved both the employee and the supervisor, who would vouch for the removal of the property. "What happened is we would then call that same supervisor to confirm that the items came back," says Powers. "Kind of the fox watching the henhouse."

In the future, internal auditors will obtain property passes and will physically spot-check to see that items reported returned are where they should be.
COPYRIGHT 1992 American Society for Industrial Security
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Security Spotlight; Kohler Co.'s sting operation
Publication:Security Management
Date:Oct 1, 1992
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