updated 11/11/2004 11:08:53 AM ET 2004-11-11T16:08:53

Four former Microsoft Corp. employees were charged with stealing $32.4 million worth of software and selling it on the side. (MSNBC is a Microsoft-NBC joint venture.)

According to the complaint filed Monday, the employees ordered software available to Microsoft employees for free to use for business purposes, then sold it to online software retailers. The complaint said the employees blocked managers from getting routine e-mail notification that the workers were ordering the software.

The software the four are accused of stealing included the SQL Server 2000, which normally sells for $15,000, and the SQL Enterprise Server 7.0, which sells for $29,000.

Robert Howdeshell, a project coordinator, and three group assistants, Alyson Clark, Finn Contini and Christine Hendrickson, were each charged with conspiracy to defraud Microsoft and selling products for personal gain.

Contini and Howdeshell also were accused of money laundering and could face up to 15 years in prison and $500,000 in fines. The other two face up to five years in prison and $250,000 in fines.

None of the four could be reached for comment, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer said.

Prosecutors would not say whether charges would be brought against those who received the software.

The illegal sales happened before Microsoft toughened security provisions in its ordering system in 2002, authorities said. Several other former employees have also been charged with stealing software and mail and computer fraud.

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