Scientist ready to get back to work after case dismissed

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A prominent coastal scientist in Louisiana said Tuesday that he's ready to get back to work one day after federal charges against him for allegedly stealing trade secrets were abruptly dropped when prosecutors said they didn't have enough evidence.

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Ehab Meselhe, along with Kelin Hu, were charged with conspiring to steal computer trade secrets from The Water Institute of the Gulf, a Baton Rouge-based institution that studies and consults on land subsidence, storms, rising sea levels and other coastal threats.

The men were arrested June 4. But in a surprise development, the U.S. Attorney's Office said in a Monday court filing that they could not meet their burden of proof and dismissed the case.

"This has been an incredibly difficult time for me and for my family. And I'm pleased that the U.S. government agreed with my position of innocence and rightfully dismissed the case," said Meselhe during a news conference Tuesday with his lawyer, Michael Magner. "I'm ready to move on with my personal life. I remain committed to fully fulfill my professional activities and services to the state of Louisiana and to the Gulf region."

Federal prosecutors alleged that Meselhe and Hu were trying to steal the Basin Wide Model, a computer model of the lower Mississippi River Delta.

The indictment calls it a "highly sensitive, proprietary, and valuable trade secret of the Water Institute because it could project how the natural environment of the Mississippi Delta would change over time, and its protection was essential to maintaining the Water Institute's competitiveness for consulting contracts worth millions of dollars."

But in court filings, Meselhe argued that the model was developed for a state agency, Louisiana's Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, and therefore was public property. In court filings, Meselhe's legal team also suggested Meselhe had been up front with The Water Institute that he was planning to take a copy of the model with him when he left last fall.

Magner, a former federal prosecutor, said he was glad the Department of Justice "did the right thing."

"I think it happens occasionally where the FBI and the government are completely misled by people with their own agendas," Magner said.

In a statement, The Water Institute said it respects the decision of the U.S. Attorney's Office to drop the charges.

"We have cooperated fully with the investigation and provided all documents and testimony requested of us. We reject any and all allegations of dishonesty and impropriety on the part of the Water Institute and its employees. Our focus will remain on our work of using applied research to help coastal and deltaic communities thoughtfully prepare for an uncertain future," the organization said in a statement Tuesday.

After leaving The Water Institute, Meselhe went to Tulane University as a professor and Hu had a position there as a research assistant professor. They have both been on paid leave since their arrest. The university said in a statement Tuesday that they are "thrilled" that the charges have been dismissed and that they are looking forward to them both coming back to work.

"Meselhe and Hu remain key members of our river and coastal science and engineering faculty, and we look forward to their continued work that is so fundamental to the future of Louisiana and the entire Mississippi River Delta and Gulf Coast," the university statement read.

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