FBI charges Pa. staff members in data wipe case

The FBI arrested two Pennsylvania Senate staff members May 31 and charged them with obstruction of justice because they wiped e-mail messages and other data from the computers and personal digital assistants of a state senator under investigation for corruption.

Leonard Luchko and Mark Eister were employees of Senate Democratic Computer Services (SDCS), a Pennsylvania State Senate organization that provides computer assistance to Democratic members of the Senate.

The FBI complaint and affidavit state that when Luchko and Eister learned the senator to whom they were assigned was the subject of a federal investigation, they intentionally destroyed all e-mail messages concerning the senator and another organization so that investigators could not recover them.

Citing Justice Department policy that arrest warrants not reveal the identities of uncharged persons or entities, the FBI did not name either the senator or the organization with which he was involved.

But a January 2004 article in the Philadelphia Inquirer, to which the FBI pointed to in its affidavit, identified the senator as Vincent Fumo and the organization as the nonprofit Citizens’ Alliance for Better Neighborhoods.

As the ranking member on the Senate Appropriations Committee, Fumo has built a reputation as the go-to guy for Philadelphia on state government issues, the articles states.

The FBI’s investigation into Fumo is focused on whether he used his position to demand payments by corporations to the alliance, with which he is closely associated, and whether the senator benefited personally and politically from expenditures made by the organization.

The FBI’s affidavit alleges that once the federal investigation became known to the senator and his staff in 2003, Luchko, Eister and others tried to delete and destroy all traces of e-mail messages sent or received by the senator. They also tried to delete all e-mail messages and documents of the alliance that might be relevant to the investigation.

“This was a deliberate, systematic and ultimately successful effort to interfere with a federal investigation,” said U.S. Attorney Pat Meehan.

When the Philadelphia Inquirer article appeared, the FBI said Luchko sent an e-mail message to members of the senator’s staff saying, “The FBI probe into the senator has really set him off and he wants us to do a number of security checks starting tomorrow…. He wants all of the BlackBerries wiped, and [another computer aide] and I have to bring in all laptops and do DOD wipes on them.”

The later reference apparently refers to data wipes that meet Defense Department standards.

The FBI affidavit cites forensic evidence of many data wipes run over the course of a year on many items of equipment belonging to Fumo and his staff.

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.


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