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Jeep maker accuses GM of 'corporate espionage,' 'spoofing' in legal spat


The maker of Jeep SUVs and Ram pickup trucks on Tuesday accused General Motors Co. of "corporate espionage" in an attempt to block the Wayne County Circuit Court from reconsidering the Detroit automaker's lawsuit against Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV.

The court last month dismissed GM's civil suit claiming "billions" of dollars in damages after FCA executives bribed United Auto Workers officials in efforts to corrupt three rounds of bargaining to harm and take over GM. Judge David Allen said the company failed to show it was harmed. FCA, which is now a part of Stellantis NV and has pleaded guilty for breaking federal labor laws, has called GM's accusations "meritless," though a federal lawsuit remains pending.

GM earlier this month requested reconsideration in the county court, but FCA says its request doesn't address the insufficiencies of the first complaint. Additionally, FCA says its rival's second complaint shows the automaker and its lawyers impersonated in emails former FCA employees to prove the existence of foreign bank accounts — an action known as "spoofing" or "pretexting."

"The only corporate espionage apparent on the face of GM’s Proposed Second Amended Complaint is that perpetrated by GM and its counsel in retaining private investigators to spoof the 'email addresses' of former FCA employees in emails sent to 'financial institutions' around the globe," FCA's lawyer, Thomas Cranmer, wrote in the company's response to GM's request.

"However GM seeks to dress it up, such spoofing of email addresses violates Michigan’s Rules of Professional Conduct, which prohibit lawyers from directly, or 'through the acts of another,' 'engag[ing] in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, [or] misrepresentation.'"

GM previously accused FCA and UAW officials of using secret offshore bank accounts to hide millions of dollars in bribes, which the automaker has denied and the union has said it is not aware of. They also have not appeared in any criminal charges.

"GM has moved for reconsideration of the court’s Order dismissing the state court case," a spokesperson said in a statement. "GM is entitled under the rules to file an amended complaint, and we have done so now which sets forth new and more detailed allegations about the years-long bribery scheme through which FCA and the other defendants harmed GM."

FCA argues even if the foreign bank accounts did exist, it doesn't offer proof FCA paid Alphons Iacobelli, a former FCA vice president and labor negotiator who later worked for GM, or Joe Ashton, the former head of the UAW's GM Department, for GM's confidential information.

GM also alleged confidential documents printed from Iacobelli's computer were given to FCA after they were not found in his garbage. FCA said that doesn't mean they were provided to FCA. The company added that since none of the information or allegations are new, they aren't grounds for GM's claims to be reconsidered.

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"GM’s claims are meritless as we have said all along," Stellantis spokeswoman Shawn Morgan said in a statement. "GM’s claims have been dismissed with prejudice multiple times in both federal and state courts, but GM through its lawyers continues to peddle these claims aggressively, now admitting that they used 'spoofed' emails in search of some support for its preposterous conspiracy theory, an apparent violation of applicable Rules of Professional Conduct. We will continue to defend ourselves vigorously and pursue all available remedies in response to this groundless lawsuit."

A federal judge last year refused to revive GM's dismissed racketeering lawsuit against FCA, calling the allegations of the use of secret offshore bank accounts for bribes "too speculative."

"Enough is enough," Cranmer wrote in Stellantis' Tuesday response. "With the score now 40-love (three-to-zero in tennis lingo), the Court should call a halt to the match."

bnoble@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @BreanaCNoble