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Ex-employer accused new CIRTA chief of stealing trade secrets

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The 25-year transportation veteran named Thursday to head the Central Indiana Regional Transportation Authority was sued by his former employer in May for allegedly stealing trade secrets.

Jeffrey D. Jackson, former chief operating officer of Durango, Colo.-based American Heritage Railways, fully disclosed the litigation and doesn’t appear to have been bound by a non-compete agreement with his former employer, said CIRTA board chair and Hamilton County Commissioner Christine Altman on Thursday morning.

CIRTA announced Jackson's hiring Wednesday night. He is scheduled to start Friday. CIRTA officials said they wanted Jackson to join the organization earlier, but he waited until the lawsuit was settled in mid-November.

“That’s part of the reason he delayed his coming. He was working on a mediated settlement of that,” Altman said.

She said the allegations are “pretty typical when someone terminates their employment and tries to move on.”

A CIRTA spokewoman said Jackson’s starting annual salary will be $115,000.

Jackson and another executive left American Heritage subsidiary Rail Events Inc. in mid-March to form their own railroad events business.

Jackson is listed as a principal of Lighthouse, Fla.-based Train Entertainment Inc., according to Florida state business records. The company filed founding paperwork with the state on March 20.

American Heritage CEO Allen Harper filed his lawsuit in a Colorado court in May, alleging Jackson and former vice president and general manager Jonathan Schlegel were trying to undermine his existing contracts to benefit their newly formed rail business, according to a report in the Durango Herald.

Harper’s company creates special events on tourist railroads based on themes in books and movies—such as "The Polar Express" and "The Lone Ranger." American Heritage operates the historic Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, which was featured in the 1969 movie, "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid."

Jackson and Schlegel had worked for Harper even before he founded Rail Events in 2000.

“It’s really simple,” Harper told the Durango Herald. “The only experience they ever had in the branding business was what they got from me, and they left the company and basically said to everyone on Earth they were going into competition with me. I don’t appreciate them taking all the knowledge and skills and contacts and intellectual properties with them and using it against me. I don’t think that’s fair.”

“In reality, they’re really good guys, and I’ve liked them a long time…I wish them well as long as they stay away from by business,” Harper told the newspaper.

 Jackson worked for American Heritage, which also operates Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, for the last 15 years.

He was previously interim executive director of Tri-Rail in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., which is part of the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority. SFRTA oversees public transportation in Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.

Jackson, who could not be immediately reached for comment on Thursday, grew up in Connersville and graduated from Indiana University after studying urban affairs, with a concentration in transportation and mass-transit management.

He takes over CIRTA from Ehren Bingaman, who announced his departure in July to join architecture and engineering firm HNTB Indiana as director of planning.

Created by state statute in 2004, CIRTA is charged with coordinating public transit services throughout central Indiana. The organization, which has eight employees, is one of three lead partners in Indy Connect, the initiative to develop the comprehensive transportation plan for central Indiana.

CIRTA also operates the Indy Express Bus Service between Carmel and downtown Indianapolis, and oversees the Commuter Connect regional rideshare program.

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