Software engineer accused of stealing $300k from employer was 'inspired by Office Space'
We know it's an influential film but that doesn't mean it's an instruction manual
Theft charges brought against a Washington state software engineer claim he took inspiration from the cult movie Office Space when he allegedly diddled his former employer out of more than $300,000.
Remarkably, $300,000 is the same amount stolen from fictional software company Initech overnight in director Mike Judge's paean to downtrodden office workers.
If you recall, the characters, weary from inept management and downsizing, plant a virus in Initech's accounting system that was supposed to shave undetectable fractions of pennies off transactions and divert them into an account they owned. However, thanks to an incorrect decimal place, they wake up the next day to find that they've stolen quite a lot more than expected.
All's well that ends well, though. When they return to the office to cover their tracks, they find that another disgruntled employee has burned down the building.
The complaint [PDF] filed against 28-year-old Ermenildo Valdez Castro certainly shares thematic hallmarks with the 1999 black comedy – right down to the file allegedly found on his work laptop calling the scheme "OfficeSpace project."
Castro is accused of two charges of theft in the first degree and one charge of identity theft in the first degree in relation to his employment at e-commerce company Zulily.
The state of Washington alleged in the filing:
Starting in the spring of 2022, Castro began a series of malicious software edits to Zulily.com's checkout pages causing $302,278.52 in loss. Specifically, and at different times:
(1) he wrote a software code that applied to a small percentage of Zulily customer check-outs, but which diverted all shipping fees associated with those purchases to an account at Stripe.com that Castro controlled – $110,240.71 was stolen this way;
(2) after Zulily began investigating that first issue, by writing a replacement code that double-charged some customers for shipping, and routed a 'full' shipping fee to both Zulily and Castro's account at Stripe – $151,645.50 was stolen this way;
and (3) unrelated to the first two issues, by manipulating the prices of items of merchandise on Zulily.com and then purchasing those items for pennies-on-the-dollar – $40,842.31 was stolen this way. The total theft was $302,278.52.
Castro started working for Seattle-based Zulily from December 2018 as part of the company's "Shopping Experience" team where he was "directly involved" in coding for the customer checkout process. The filing contains allegations from Seattle Police that he began editing Zulily code in spring 2022, allowing him to siphon off funds in the manner described above.
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In late May 2022, it is claimed the company's fraud team discovered the price manipulations on products ordered by Castro and shipped to his Tacoma home. He was put on administrative leave on June 3 and fired on June 9. In his defense, Castro said he was testing the integrity of large orders as part of his job as software engineer but "forgot" to cancel the items.
After he was terminated, he returned his work-issued laptop and Zulily began probing its contents. Steve Carney, director of cybersecurity for parent company Quarate Retail Group, told Seattle Police that a OneNote document was found that "outlined his scheme to steal shipping fees," which Castro referred to as "OfficeSpace project."
Cops claimed: "Among other things, the OneNote document text identifies a control to exclude any transactions originating from an IP address associated with Zulily; suggests a control to ensure that the card being sent to Stripe matches the card on file with Zulily that the customer would be using to make the purchase; describes the need to troubleshoot instances of customers being charged multiple times; and noted the need to 'cleanup evidence' by updating certain audit logs and 'disable alarm logging'."
When asked during police interview why he did not return the 1,000-plus items he ordered after being sacked, it is claimed he said of Zulily: "Fuck 'em."
The cops claimed they were also told that the money was "gone" – invested into stock options including those of GameStop.
When they searched Castro's home, it is alleged that officers found a huge amount of the ordered items, "some still in their original packaging with shipping label attached." One such item was claimed to be a $565.99 sofa bed that Castro paid a dollar for.
Unfortunately, the case documents make no reference to a Zulily boss leaning on an office cubicle and requesting TPS reports. Nor do any printers appear to have been harmed, and the Zulily office is not a smoldering heap.
Castro is to appear at King County Superior Court in Seattle on January 26. ®