Renegade food factory worker says he'll reveal secret recipes

When a Globe reporter attempted to speak with his ex-wife…a man followed the reporter and ex-wife onto an elevator. The man eavesdropped as the ex-wife, who declined to give her name, cried and said she had been "traumatized." When The Globe reporter asked the man to identify himself, he responded, "it doesn't matter who I am," and walked away.

The Globe and Mail
November 14, 2006

Renegade food factory worker says he'll reveal secret recipes
Greg McArthur

For the past two weeks, a 42-year-old employee at a Scarborough food-manufacturing plant has been hunted by corporate lawyers, private investigators and police officers after someone swiped, and attempted to sell, some of the most closely guarded recipes in North America's fast-food industry.

Abdool Gafoor, a Guyanese immigrant and a father of four, has been in hiding since early November, shortly after teams of lawyers and investigators, armed with a court order, swooped in on the homes of his ex-wife, brother and sister, seizing their computers, documents and other belongings.

For the past year, Mr. Gafoor has been a temporary shift worker at the Pharmacy Avenue plant in Scarborough of Griffith Laboratories, a private, Illinois-based company that designs and manufactures the spices, sauces and recipes for popular fast-food restaurants. It calls itself "the food architects."

Griffith regards its client list as confidential, but various media outlets have reported its culinary triumphs: creating the tastes associated with restaurants such as KFC and Bonanza. One report credited Griffith with being behind McDonald's chicken McNuggets.

While Griffith won't name the recipes that Mr. Gafoor is accused of stealing, his sister, Rafeena Sahib, told The Globe and Mail that one of the investigators commented, after combing through her underwear drawer and recipe books, "The Colonel is turning in his grave."

The last time anyone at the factory saw Mr. Gafoor was during an Oct. 12 shift, when he was instructed to do some lifting and refused, according to sworn affidavits recently filed in court.

He walked out of the factory at 7:35 a.m. that day, and as court documents allege, his revenge was already well under way.

Mr. Gafoor came to Scarborough about four years ago with his now ex-wife and their children. He tried to make a living exporting beauty products to salons and stylists in the Caribbean, primarily Trinidad and Tobago. He called the company Mainland Gate and created a website to market his massage oils and callus creams.

But the Internet became much more than an economic opportunity; he spent hours and hours in message forums chatting about politics.

He created another website, Justonjustice.com, and spent days and nights posting articles about alleged human-rights abuses and corruption in the Caribbean and South America.

His business was not prospering, however, and to pay the bills, he got occasional shifts at the Griffith plant, which employs 360 people. He started as a temp on Oct. 4, 2005, and worked in the mixing, batching and packaging departments.

But the work at Griffith bothered Mr. Gafoor, and he often complained to his sister. He didn't want to work in certain departments and he worried he was allergic to some of the spices.

Then, about a year after Mr. Gafoor's start date, the webmaster for Griffith received an e-mail that was filled with errors of spelling and grammar, and included a jarring subject line: "The Rise and Fall of Griffith."

"Simple, the ball is in your court," the message said. "Griffith has one year the most to go out of business. Please visit http://www.bestbatter.com. You will loose all of your major contracts. There would be no funds to finance your expansion in Brazil, China and so on … Watch me get back at Griffith."

The e-mail was signed "Karen."

When the company visited http://www.bestbatter.com, it discovered that an undisclosed number of its confidential recipes and formulas were partly posted and up for sale. Portions of the recipes were blacked out, only to be revealed upon payment. Whoever created the site had listed a number of Web-based payment options, including PayPal and Western Union.

Someone had stolen Griffith's confidential formulas, and he or she fancied themselves a crusader.

"Yes, recipes that have been claimed to be centuries old can now be all yours. Do not drain money into research and development, profiling the taste of North Americans. Get great recipes fast and easy, and lets all offer great foods at competitive prices. In this way none of us can hold the tongues of others at ransom," the message on the website boasted.

But the thief had been sloppy in the extreme. On the bestbatter site were links for both of Mr. Gafoor's websites: Mainlandgate.com and Justonjustice.com.

Soon, private investigators had narrowed it down to the obvious suspect: Mr. Gafoor. Lawyers from Borden Ladner Gervais swooped in and persuaded Mr. Justice Colin Campbell of Ontario Superior Court to grant an emergency injunction that permits lawyers to search and seize property in a case where speed is necessary.

Initially, Mr. Gafoor co-operated, allowing the lawyers to take his hard drives, CDs and personal documents. He also handed over passwords to his e-mail accounts. According to one signed affidavit filed in support of the order, Mr. Gafoor admitted to investigators "the wrongdoing he is accused of."

However, on Nov. 3, he failed to show for an appearance in front of Judge Campbell, and investigators haven't heard from him since. His family says they have been under constant surveillance since his disappearance, and that they are unintentional victims of his secrets.

When a Globe reporter attempted to speak with his ex-wife, who often shared her Scarborough apartment with Mr. Gafoor despite their separation, a man followed the reporter and ex-wife onto an elevator.

The man eavesdropped as the ex-wife, who declined to give her name, cried and said she had been "traumatized." When The Globe reporter asked the man to identify himself, he responded, "it doesn't matter who I am," and walked away.

Ms. Sahib is also standing by her brother, even though she acknowledges that she is angry at him for sparking the search of her home. One of the main reasons Griffith has unleashed a legal fury on her family, she says, is because the company is trying to cover up its own security breach.

Since his disappearance, Mr. Gafoor has been posting messages on Justonjustice.com, saying that he never stole anything and merely found the recipes in the garbage.

Not so, says Mark Duffy, Griffith's vice-president of global communications. The company is still trying to figure out exactly how the recipes were leaked, but Mr. Duffy said no factory worker would have access to complete recipes.

"A crime was committed and as a result we are pursuing every option available under the law on behalf of our customers," Mr. Duffy said.

Toronto police investigators are now involved in the search after Mr. Gafoor's disappearance earned him a finding of contempt of court. He still calls Ms. Sahib from a payphone once every few days, but she says he won't reveal where he's hiding.

"I think he's just tired of everything," she said.


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Risks: Intimidation, Dissent, Violence, Death wish, Tobacco industry-type defence, Revenge, Canada, 20061114 Renegade food

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