Monday, August 17, 2009

Fifth Guilty Plea to Passport Peeping

The U.S. Department of Justice announced today that a fifth person has plead guilty to illegally accessing confidential passport files:

WASHINGTON – A fifth individual pleaded guilty today to illegally accessing numerous confidential passport application files, Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Criminal Division announced. Kevin M. Young, 42, of Temple Hills, Md., pleaded guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge Alan Kay in the District of Columbia to a one-count criminal information charging him with unauthorized computer access. Young is scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 9, 2009.

According to court documents, Young has worked full-time for the State Department since February 1987. For the past eight years, Young has been a contact representative for the Passport Special Issuance Agency. In pleading guilty, Young admitted he had access to official State Department computer databases in the regular course of his employment, including the Passport Information Electronic Records System (PIERS), which contains all imaged passport applications dating back to 1994. The imaged passport applications on PIERS contain, among other things, a photograph of the passport applicant as well as certain personal information including the applicant’s full name, date and place of birth, current address, telephone numbers, parent information, spouse’s name and emergency contact information. These confidential files are protected by the Privacy Act of 1974, and access by State Department employees is strictly limited to official government duties.

In pleading guilty, Young admitted that between March 11, 2003, and Dec. 21, 2005, he logged onto the PIERS database and viewed the passport applications of more than 125 celebrities, actors, comedians, professional athletes, musicians, models, a politician and other individuals identified in the press. Young admitted that he had no official government reason to access and view these passport applications, but that his sole purpose in accessing and viewing these passport applications was idle curiosity.

Young is the fifth current or former State Department employee to plead guilty in this continuing investigation. On Sept. 22, 2008, Lawrence C. Yontz, a former Foreign Service Officer and intelligence analyst, pleaded guilty to unlawfully accessing nearly 200 confidential passport files. Yontz was sentenced on Dec. 19, 2008, to 12 months of probation and ordered to perform 50 hours of community service. On Jan. 14, 2009, Dwayne F. Cross, a former administrative assistant and contract specialist, pleaded guilty to unlawfully accessing more than 150 confidential passport files. On March 23, 2009, Cross was sentenced to 12 months of probation and ordered to perform 100 hours of community service. On Jan. 27, 2009, Gerald R. Lueders, a former Foreign Service Officer, watch officer and recruitment coordinator, pleaded guilty to unlawfully accessing more than 50 confidential passport files. Lueders was sentenced on July 8, 2009, to one year of probation and ordered to pay a $5,000 fine. On July 10, 2009, William A. Celey, a file assistant, pleaded guilty to unlawfully accessing more than 75 confidential passport files. Celey is scheduled to be sentenced on Oct. 23, 2009.

These cases are being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Armando O. Bonilla of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section, headed by Section Chief William M. Welch II. The cases are being investigated by the State Department Office of Inspector General.

Idle curiosity can have a high price.

So can credit card fraud, which seems to have been the motive behind some of last year's outbreak of passport peeping. A Washington DC resident who went by the name of "Lieutenant" Quarles Harris, Jr., was shot to death in August of 2008, five months after he was found in possession of eight U.S. passport application printouts that he had reportedly obtained from a conspirator who worked at the State Department, and which he was using to fraudulently obtain credit cards.

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