Knicks file lawsuit alleging Raptors used “mole” to steal data

The New York Knicks have filed a lawsuit against the Toronto Raptors, accusing their Atlantic Division rival of conspiring with a “mole” who recently defected from the Knicks organization to illegally obtain proprietary information .

In a filing Monday in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, attorneys for the Knicks alleged that Toronto coach Darko Rajakovic, who was hired in June, was among several Raptors officials directing the operation.

Rajakovic, a former Memphis Grizzlies assistant, was named in the lawsuit, as was player development coach Noah Lewis, the Raptors’ parent organization and former Knicks employee Ikechukwu Azotam. In addition, the filing named ten “unidentified Raptors employees who received confidential information about the Knicks.”

Azotam, who reportedly worked for the Knicks from October 2020 to mid-August as a video, analysis and player development assistant, is said to have secretly emailed the Raptors a large quantity of scouting reports, game frequency reports and other preparatory material, as well as a link to the New York subscription to Synergy, a third-party company that helps analyze and archive game data.

“In total, Azotam illegally shared 3,358 video files,” the lawsuit reads. “The Raptors defendants accessed the file sharing page over 2,000 times.”

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The Knicks said Rajakovic and the Raptors began recruiting azotame in June and used him to “act as a mole within the Knicks organization to … illegally convert and misuse the Knicks’ confidential and proprietary information.”

According to the team, Azotam’s last day on staff for the Knicks was August 14. The alleged data theft was discovered the next day, the team said.

The Raptors’ parent organization, Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, said in a statement Monday that it “strongly denies any involvement in the alleged affairs.”

MLSE said it received a letter last week from the Knicks’ parent organization, Madison Square Garden Sports, alerting it to the complaint. MLSE added that it “reacted promptly and made clear our intention to conduct an internal investigation and to cooperate fully.”

The Knicks did not let MLSE know that a lawsuit was imminent, the latter company said in its statement.

The court record charged the listed defendants with:

  • Violating the Defend Trade Secrets Act
  • Misappropriation of Trade Secrets Under New York Common Law
  • Exercising “illicit control” over files rightfully owned by the Knicks
  • unfair competition
  • Unjustified enrichment

In addition, the Raptors have been charged with violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and tortious interference with contractual relationships, and Azotam has been charged with breach of contract.

The Knicks said in their filing that during their employment, Azotam signed an agreement containing a non-disclosure clause and also “acknowledged a policy on the use of company information…which expressly prohibits the misappropriation of confidential and proprietary information.”

Azotam, who reportedly told the Knicks in July that he intended to work for the Raptors the following year, allegedly subsequently used his team email account to send information to a personal Gmail account and to an email forward the Raptors’ mail account record on his behalf. According to the lawsuit, one email contained detailed scouting information for the Indiana Pacers and another focused on the Denver Nuggets. A Dallas Mavericks game frequency report prepared by New York is said to have been illegally shared with Toronto.

“As a direct and proximate result of the defendants’ unauthorized actions, the Knicks were and are being harmed,” the lawsuit reads. “The defendants still possess the Knicks’ valuable confidential business information and trade secrets and can access and use that information for their personal gain and the benefit of the Knicks’ competitors.”

A spokesman for MSG Sports emailed a statement Tuesday morning: “The New York Knicks have sued the Toronto Raptors and several members of their organization, including a former Knicks employee, after the former employee illegally transferred thousands of proprietary files to his new position.” with the Toronto Raptors. These files include sensitive information such as game frequency reports, a 2022-23 season prep book, video scouting files and materials, and more. Given the clear breach of our employment contract, criminal and civil laws, we had no choice but to take this action.”

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