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It was about two weeks ago when Blanca Lopez offered the two cleaning workers in her office building a little cash for trash, according to the cleaning company.
Lou DeLeon, general manager of P&R Enterprises, gave this account: Lopez offered about $ 50 each for the paper coming out the door at the Association for Competitive Technology (ACT). Just bring it over to the offices of Upstream Technologies, on the same floor, she said. When they declined, she sweetened her offer to $ 500 apiece--with an extra $ 200 for the supervisor. They refused again.
As it happens, ACT is a leading ally of Microsoft Corp. in its bitter antitrust fight with the federal government. The group also gets strong funding from Microsoft. It also happens that the company Lopez worked for, Upstream Technologies, has been linked to a private investigating firm with ties to other high-tech companies.
Since the online site Wired News and the Wall Street Journal reported Lopez's requests last week, other friends of Microsoft have stepped forward with more
* The Independent Institute, an Oakland, Calif.-based think tank, lost two laptop computers to theft last year, said President David Theroux. "There's something bizarre going on," he said.
* Citizens for a Sound Economy had three laptops stolen late last year. Both groups get substantial funding from Microsoft and support it in the suit.
* A few days after Lopez's offers, offices in the Dupont Circle building that houses Microsoft's local operation were broken into. The Microsoft offices themselves weren't hit, said D.C. police spokesman Joe Gentile, though the door leading into them was damaged.
A Microsoft spokesman suggested that the company's many enemies are to blame. "We have sort of always known that our competitors have been actively engaged in trying to define us, and sort of attack us," said spokesman Rick Miller. "But these revelations are particularly concerning and really show the lengths to which they're willing to go to attack Microsoft."
ACT President Jonathan Zuck suggested that "some people are threatened" by his group's aggressive attitude. "We're coming hard," he said.
Both the New York Times and The Washington Post have written stories about Microsoft's backing for the groups, and the organizations have suggested that the information could have been drawn from the stolen laptops.
Both newspapers declined to comment on the sources for their stories. In a September story about Microsoft's support for the Independent Institute, the Times identified the source as "a Microsoft adversary associated with the computer industry."
Jill Dutt, The Post's assistant managing editor for financial news, said of one story linking Microsoft to the pro-Microsoft National Taxpayers Union: "There was not even a hint that the information we received from our sources might have been obtained by illegal means. . . . If we had, we would have immediately contacted our lawyers to discuss whether we should use the material. "
An attorney for Lopez would not comment. An attorney for Upstream, Martin Lobel, said: "They are certainly a very quiet, quiet company. I don't know what they do."
Lobel scoffed at suggestions that a crime might have been committed. "Even if everything you say is true, you've got a failed attempt to Dumpster-dive. Is that a crime? Noooo. . . . I wouldn't be surprised if Microsoft put it up themselves to get a little sympathy," he said.
For now, Erick Gustafson, director of technology and communications policy at Citizens for a Sound Economy, said he has asked his wife not to throw out any papers with sensitive personal or financial information. But he also said he is trying to keep things in perspective.
"I live on Capitol Hill," Gustafson joked. "I'm frankly worried about whether somebody's going to pick up my trash."