Campaign 2010

Nov 01, 2008

Buffalo News - Lee admits he ‘made a mistake’ in early job

Congressional candidate Chris Lee acknowledged Friday that he was fired from Ingram Micro years ago because he “made a mistake.” Sources familiar with the mistake say he hacked into a company computer for personal gain.

Lee was a young salesman with Ingram Micro, a computer products distributor that in 1989 was known as Ingram Micro D and operated from offices on Elmwood Avenue.

Lee, according to his co-workers at the time, somehow obtained a company credit manager’s password. Then, with that password, he raised the credit limits for some of his customers and the customers of other sales people, the employees said.

That way Lee could sell the customers more of the company’s products, on credit, before the billing system would flag their accounts for payment and halt further purchases.

It might have helped with sales, but it also put the company at greater risk if those customers failed to pay. A few others knew of the scheme, according to one of the former employees, who asked to remain unidentified fearing retaliation from Lee or Republican Party forces.

“This unauthorized raising of the credit lines allowed Chris and his cohorts to make sales to their customers in excess of Ingram-approved credit lines,” a former employee said, “thus putting Ingram at risk of customer default.”

Two people were fired, Lee among them. Others were reprimanded, the former employees said.

Told of the accusation Friday, the Lee campaign responded with a written statement from Lee: “At my first job out of college, I made a mistake and broke company policy and was let go. What’s important is that I learned from that mistake, and have had a successful career building a business and creating jobs for families here in Western New York.”

A campaign spokeswoman said Lee broke no laws and never did benefit financially.

“It happened 20-some years ago, and Chris has learned from his mistake,” said Andrea Bozek of the Chris Lee for Congress campaign.

Lee, now 44, was about 25 years old at the time. He soon after went to work in the information technology business in California and obtained his MBA.

He later helped run Enidine, a family business that began as a machine shop and expanded internationally, with more than 20 companies across North America, Europe and Asia.

“And he is the only candidate in this race who has created jobs and understands business,” Bozek said.

The former employees appear to have no link to the campaign of Lee’s opponent, Democrat Alice Kryzan. Bozek, however, said the revelation looks like a Kryzan attempt to “smear the reputation of a successful businessman in Western New York.”

Lee and Kryzan are vying to represent New York’s 26th Congressional District, the seat now held by Rep. Thomas Reynolds, R-Clarence, who is not seeking re-election.

The Kryzan campaign did not have an immediate comment about Lee’s work record Friday or Bozek’s accusation.