The leader of a company hoping to move a supercomputer data center into Longview’s old water treatment plant is fighting to stay out of federal prison.
MiningSky, Inc. COO Eric Lundgren said he is appealing a May sentence to serve 15 months in prison and pay a $50,000 fine because his attempts to reduce electronic waste angered Microsoft.
One day before he was expected to be taken into custody, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals called for an emergency review of his case. Lundgren said this review could take anywhere from six months to two years.
Longview Economic Development Coordinator Joe Phillips said the city knew about Lundgren's legal jeopardy when it started discussing MiningSky's interest in leasing the decommissioned water plant on Fisher's Lane. The company wants to house a data center and build mobile supercomputer hosting units at the facility.
"Absolutely it's a topic of discussion. You should be concerned about it. But the more we looked into it ... it comes off as he was a good guy caught in a bad position with Microsoft," Phillips said.
If his conviction is upheld and he goes to prison, Lundgren, 33, said someone else at MiningSky would step in and continue the project in Longview.
“We’re prepared for the worst, but I’m 99 percent sure that when the government reviews this and sees that there is zero evidence … that I’m not going to prison for this,” he said last week.
Lundgren's self-assurance and confidence are not surprising for an entrepreneur who started his first company at age 19, spent $850,000 fighting Microsoft and now is launching an audacious venture in Longview. He's no longer motivated by money, Lundgren says.
"The truth is I already have money. Money to me is a tool to get more done. Hopefully, right before I die, I can look back and say I was able to leave this world a better place than where I found it," he said.
Lundgren started recycling electronics as a 16-year-old growing up in Lynden, Wash. By 23, he had moved to Los Angeles and was recycling laptops for all five branches of the U.S. military, he said. (The laptops had been wiped of all information so they were declassified by the time he got them, he said.)
He lived in China and Ghana throughout his 20s, witnessing the health and environmental impacts of burning and burying old electronics.
"Electronic waste is the fastest-growing waste stream in the world. It’s full of a whole bunch of toxic chemicals," Lundgren said. "I was sickened by it. I was trying to find ways to empower consumers to keep their hardware for as long as possible."
He rose to fame last year when his electric car made of recycled parts outlasted a Tesla. It has since beat the Guinness World Record for the greatest distance covered by an electric vehicle on a single charge.
Lundgren said he owns seven companies that all focus on different forms of recycling. But his efforts to extend the lifespan of computers prompted the Department of Justice to bring a 21-count indictment against him.
Lundgren had duplicated 28,000 “restore discs” for consumers to easily reboot computers when they crash, get a virus or slow down due to old age. These disks only work for computers that have licensed Windows software. They often come with a new computer and can be downloaded for free.
By downloading the disks and selling them for the price of shipping, Lundgren said he hoped to make it easier for people to fix their computers instead of throwing them away.
“This upset Microsoft because I helped consumers repair their electronics," he said. "Microsoft makes money when things break."
Lundgren uses an extended metaphor to explain his perspective: A customer buys a car, but the car company has a lock on the car that prevents the customer from changing the oil. As a result, the car breaks down and the customer has to buy a new one. Instead, Lundgren says he planned to give that key back to consumers so they could change the oil and keep their cars longer.
“If you own the car and the title to the car, you have the legal right to change your own oil,” he said. “Because I educated the world about how to change their own oil, I got in the way of the 23rd largest company in the world.”
Lundgren ended up never selling a single restore disk because the market changed quickly and there was no demand for it.
He pleaded guilty to copyright infringement because Dell and Microsoft's trademark was on the restore CDs. But he argues that Microsoft never lost any money, so he shouldn't spend any time in prison.
“It would be like if someone accused you of murder but didn’t differentiate if you stepped on an ant or killed a child. They’re punishing me like I killed a child, but I stepped on an ant,” he said.
Phillips said the city would be more worried about Lundgren's legal battle if he were the only one involved in the Longview project.
"I would be concerned if I thought what happened represented a serious character flaw of some kind," Phillips said. "The more you read, the less it seems that way."
Lundgren said his nearly $1 million in legal fees will be worth it if future recyclers don't have to deal with pressure from Microsoft.
“(The legal battle) has nothing to do with the Longview plant. It has a lot to do with me as a shaker that disrupts industries … to make them better for mankind. I’m going to keep doing it because it’s the right thing to do.”