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Robbers Steal Computer Chips : Crime: Four armed men accost the president of Irvine-based Modulink as he is leaving and make off with goods worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Four men made off with a cache of computer chips and equipment Monday after they confronted a company executive at gunpoint and then hogtied him, police said Tuesday.

The value of the loss was estimated at hundreds of thousands of dollars, though company employees still were trying to figure out exactly what was stolen.

The robbery is the second major theft of computer chips and computer equipment in Irvine this year, police said.

In the latest robbery, the president of Modulink Inc., Keller Lee, told investigators he had just locked up the business at 9 p.m. when the robbers approached him in the parking lot and forced him back inside. They demanded he show them where the company’s computers and memory chips are stored.

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The robbers then tied Lee’s hands and feet before fleeing in a 1970s or 1980s van with a sliding cargo door, Lt. Sam Allevato said. Lee freed himself and called the company’s director, who notified police an hour later.

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Box loads of D-RAM, or rapid access memory, and Bi-directional Buffer Logic chips worth hundreds of thousands of dollars were stolen in addition to four notebook computers, police said.

Detectives are looking into the possibility that the robbery was committed by a current or former employee, Allevato said.

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“A lot of these cases are inside jobs,” he said. “We don’t know if [Monday’s] robbery fits into that category. We’re still investigating.”

The robbers were described as men in their 20s, 5-foot-7 to 5-foot-10 and clean shaven. Three of the men were described as Asian and the fourth was described as Latino.

Investigators said quite a few computer heists have been reported in the past few years, prompting them to conduct seminars on security measures needed at high-tech companies.

In May, more than a dozen armed robbers confronted employees in a parking lot at Irvine’s Centon Electronics and took computer equipment worth $9.9 million--at that time the largest chip robbery in U.S. history, according to the FBI. Several people were arrested after some of the stolen chips were sold in Northern California, police said.

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Two months later, three gunmen assaulted several employees at Dovatron Manufacturing in Anaheim and ransacked the plant, looking for computer chips, police said. They left with a small amount of computer equipment, authorities said.

The companies “are so vulnerable to this sort of thing,” Allevato said. “I mean, we’re talking about multimillion-dollar products here, and they can be disposed of easily.”


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