updated 7/18/2007 3:22:52 PM ET 2007-07-18T19:22:52

A former Boeing Co. worker accused of illegally downloading sensitive company documents and leaking them to reporters has pleaded not guilty to 16 counts of computer trespass.

Prosecutors allege Gerald Lee Eastman, 45, took more than 320,000 pages of confidential documents from the airplane maker, stored them on his home computer and shared some of them with reporters.

Eastman, a quality-control inspector at Boeing for about 18 years before he was fired last year, has described himself as a whistle-blower, saying he copied the files to document what he considered to be inadequate inspection of certain parts.

He told police he alerted the Federal Aviation Administration about his concerns but felt that neither the FAA nor Boeing addressed the issues to his satisfaction.

After his arraignment Tuesday, he told reporters he was disappointed that criminal charges had been filed.

“I’m surprised they (prosecutors) would side with Boeing against the people’s interest,” Eastman said. “Boeing is trying to silence other people and keep them from coming forward.”

Boeing denied that it discourages employees from coming forward with safety concerns.

“We have processes that look at any kind of safety or any quality issues that people raise within the company,” Tim Neale, a spokesman at Boeing’s Chicago headquarters, said Wednesday. “It’s a pretty robust process. Those things are not ignored. We take them seriously.”

Eastman faces a standard range of about three and a half years to nearly five years in prison if convicted on all counts, said Dan Dohonoe, spokesman for the King County prosecutor’s office in Washington.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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