Former DHS watchdogs charged in software and data theft
- By Derek B. Johnson
- Mar 06, 2020
The Department of Justice announced it has indicted Charles K. Edwards, a former acting inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security, and one of his former subordinates for allegedly stealing software and confidential databases from the U.S. government.
According to a DOJ press release, both Edwards and Murali Yamazula Venkata are accused of carrying out a scheme between October 2014 and April 2017 to steal confidential and proprietary software and databases containing personally identifiable information of DHS and U.S. Postal Services employees from the DHS Inspector General's Office. Edwards, who left his post in December 2013, allegedly struck a deal with Venkata to steal the software and records to underpin a new, enhanced version of the system that he planned to sell back to DHS IG and the Department of Agriculture.
Both Edwards and Venkata are being charged with conspiracy to commit theft of government property and to defraud the United States, theft of government property, wire fraud and aggravated identity theft. Venkata is also being charged with destruction of records. Justice alleges that other DHS OIG employees were also involved in the scheme, but does not name any other individuals.
Prosecutors also claim Venkata and others helped Edwards reconfigure his laptop to upload the stolen goods, helped build a testing server in Edwards home and provided troubleshooting along the way. Edwards hired software developers in India to develop the software he planned to sell back to the government.
The charges are a result of an investigation carried out by DHS OIG and USDA OIG. A representative from the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, where the case is being prosecuted, said the system indicates the indictment is still sealed as of March 6.
The details appear to match those of another case in 2014, when DHS technology manager Sonal Patel pled guilty to stealing 150,000 investigation records and personal data for 250,000 DHS employees from the department's Enforcement Database System, valued at more than $3.1 million. Patel then handed that information off to "a former DHS Acting Inspector General" who used it to develop a commercial alternative for both the DHS and USDA Inspector General Offices, according to the Washington Post.
It's not the first allegation of wrongdoing directed at Edwards. In 2014, a Senate investigation found that he was the subject of numerous whistleblower complaints, and investigated claims that he did not recuse himself from audits or inspections where there were potential conflicts of interest with his wife's employment, abused resources and altered and delayed investigations at the request of senior Obama administration officials among others. The investigation was ultimately unable to substantiate those accusations.
Derek B. Johnson is a senior staff writer at FCW, covering governmentwide IT policy, cybersecurity and a range of other federal technology issues.
Prior to joining FCW, Johnson was a freelance technology journalist. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, GoodCall News, Foreign Policy Journal, Washington Technology, Elevation DC, Connection Newspapers and The Maryland Gazette.
Johnson has a Bachelor's degree in journalism from Hofstra University and a Master's degree in public policy from George Mason University. He can be contacted at [email protected], or follow him on Twitter @derekdoestech.
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