San Jose, Calif. A long-defunct fight over logic emulation patents took a bizarre twist last week as Amr Mohsen, founder and former CEO of Aptix Corp., was charged with attempting to intimidate witnesses and to have a federal judge killed.
Mohsen, already jailed as a flight risk from perjury charges, now faces 23 criminal counts with a potential combined prison time of more than 130 years.
Observers don't think there will be an impact on the EDA industry, but what's less clear is the impact on Aptix, a struggling provider of rapid-prototyping systems that declared bankruptcy in April. Mohsen no longer holds a post at Aptix but is believed to be the majority owner of the privately held company.
A superseding indictment filed July 27 in U.S. District Court in San Francisco caps a legal saga that was strange to begin with. It started in 2000, when Aptix licensed a patent to Mentor Graphics Corp. so that Mentor could sue archrival Quickturn Design Systems. The case was dismissed when the patent was ruled to be fraudulent, and Mohsen and his brother Aly were indicted on perjury charges.
In March of this year, days before the perjury trial was to begin, Amr Mohsen was arrested by FBI agents and jailed as he apparently tried to flee the country for the Cayman Islands. He was already facing 19 criminal counts, and the apparent flight attempt added another, for contempt of court. Following the arrest, Mohsen resigned his position as Aptix CEO.
If Mohsen didn't dig a deep enough hole for himself then, it appears that he has now. An affidavit filed by an FBI agent with the July 27 indictment alleges that Mohsen tried to hire a fellow inmate at the Santa Rita jail in Dublin, Calif., to threaten witnesses by phone; to burn the car of one witness and to leave a threatening note in the car of another; and to kill Federal Judge William Alsup, who was presiding over the Mohsen case.
As a result, the superseding indictment adds three more counts: attempted witness tampering, solicitation to commit arson and solicitation to commit murder. The last count alone could result in 20 years' imprisonment.
The previous 19 counts, faced by both Amr Mohsen and his brother Aly, include conspiracy to obstruct justice and commit perjury, perjury, subornation of perjury, mail fraud and obstruction of justice.
"I've never seen a case go so bad this quickly," Aly Mohsen's attorney, Frank Ubhaus of Berliner Cohen (San Jose), said last week. He said the superseding indictment does not level further charges against his client: "Aly faces just the original perjury and obstruction-of-justice charges having to do with a notebook in a piece of patent litigation that he wasn't involved in and under no circumstances does he benefit from." Ubhaus declined to say whether Aly will make a plea but said talks continue with the Justice Department.
The brothers' next court appearance is scheduled for Wednesday before District Judge Phyllis Hamilton. Judge Alsup has been recused from the case.
The new charges against Amr Mohsen turn an unwelcome spotlight on Aptix, which was granted Chapter 11 protection after being unable to pay court-ordered fees to Cadence Design Systems Inc. resulting from the Mentor v. Quickturn case. Cadence purchased Quickturn after that case was concluded.
"This came as a complete surprise to everyone here," said Charlie Miller, Aptix's senior vice president of marketing and business development, but "this is an Amr issue, not an Aptix issue. He has no involvement with the company."
Despite the Mohsen publicity and the bankruptcy, Miller said, Aptix is doing well. "We just completed our third quarter of profitability, our customers are very supportive, we're meeting all our forecasts and we'll file a reorganization plan soon."
Aptix appointed a new CEO, Hamdi El-Sissi, in May on Mohsen's recommendation. El-Sissi is new to EDA but has held executive positions in the semiconductor and venture-capital industries.
Erach Desai, financial analyst at American Technology Research, doesn't think Aptix has much to worry about. "I would tend to believe that Aptix has been effectively distancing itself from Amr [Mohsen]," he said.
But Gartner Dataquest analyst Daya Nadamuni isn't so sure. "There will be some concern about the company's ability to keep to its technology road map because of internal turmoil," she said. "There may be some concern about qualifying Aptix as an approved supplier with the necessary financial stability."
Nadamuni nonetheless foresees little impact on the health of the EDA industry at large, based on the industry's experience with past disruptions such as the long-running Avanti criminal case. That proceeding, of course, involved a much larger, publicly held company.
Keith Lobo, general partner at Fremont Ventures, said EDA venture capitalists' decisions won't be affected by the indictment. "It's a completely isolated incident, very specific to an individual," he said.
But Lobo, who was CEO of Quickturn at the time of the Mentor-Aptix lawsuit, called the Mohsen case "an example of how badly things can go wrong when a bright engineer with a PhD from Caltech steers off the straight and narrow. Entrepreneurship used to be about creating new things and changing society for the better. Somewhere along the line big money moved in, and greed took center stage over accomplishment."
Education, Lobo said, "is the place to start to instill in new generations of engineers the right balance between morality and financial gain."
Solicitation for murder
The new charges against Amr Mohsen are detailed in an affidavit filed by FBI agent Christopher Forvour on June 15. A redacted version is publicly available. It alleges that Mohsen initially tried to hire a fellow inmate with a long criminal record to threaten five witnesses by phone, burn down the house of one witness and leave a threatening note in the car of another.
The inmate, however, became an FBI informant, and he recorded conversations with Mohsen. An undercover FBI agent posed as "Kimo," the individual who supposedly would arrange the crimes.
Mohsen reportedly told the informant that his sister would contact Kimo. The affidavit states that Kimo was contacted by an unidentified female with a Middle Eastern accent and was paid $2,000 on behalf of Mohsen by a man identified by the FBI as Mohamed Ali Moussa.
Sources told EE Times that the man mentioned in the affidavit is the same Mohamed Ali Moussa who is president and CEO of Altavion (Santa Clara, Calif.), a company that is developing paper-to-digital data conversion products. Contacted by EE Times last week, Moussa acknowledged knowing Mohsen but referred any further questions to his attorney, Robert David Baker. Baker also refused to comment last week.
In further recorded conversations with the informant, according to the affidavit, Mohsen changed his mind about burning down the government witness' house and instead asked that the witness' car be torched.
He then allegedly told the informant he wanted Alsup, who was presiding over the Mohsen case, made to "disappear" so that he would "never be found."
According to the affidavit, Mohsen tried to negotiate with the informant to have Alsup murdered for $10,000, after the informant had suggested the murder of the judge would cost $25,000. The affidavit also describes a recorded conversation in which Mohsen and the informant allegedly discussed various methods of killing the judge, including a gas leak. Mohsen reportedly asked which method would be the least traceable.
According to the affidavit, Mohsen also went to great lengths to build an insanity defense by asking his psychologist daughter questions about psychosis disorders, reading books on the subject and viewing videos including A Beautiful Mind. As a result, Mohsen a Caltech PhD was charged with obstruction of justice by "feigning incompetency to delay a federal trial."
A press release issued on July 27 by the U.S. Attorney's office cautioned that "an indictment simply contains allegations against an individual and, as with all defendants, Amr and Aly Mohsen must be presumed innocent unless and until convicted."
Michael Santarini contributed to this story.