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Former acting Homeland Security IG is indicted in theft of data on 250,000 workers

By SPENCER S. HSU | The Washington Post | Published: March 6, 2020

A former acting inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security and a subordinate have been charged with stealing government software and databases containing personal data on more than 250,000 government employees, the Justice Department said.

Charles K. Edwards, 59, of Sandy Spring, Maryland, and Murali Yamazula Venkata, 54, of Aldie, Virginia, were indicted in Washington on 16 counts, including conspiracy to commit theft of government property and to defraud the United States, theft of government property, wire fraud and aggravated identity theft, the Justice Department said. Venkata was also charged with destroying records.

Prosecutors alleged that from October 2014 to April 2017, Edwards, Venkata and others conspired to steal proprietary information from the DHS inspector general's office so Edwards' company, Delta Business Solutions, could sell an enhanced version to the Agriculture Department.

Edwards left DHS in December 2013 but continued "to leverage his relationship with Venkata" and other employees, the government alleged.

Attorneys for Edwards and Venkata could not immediately be reached for comment.

The data theft affected the personal information of DHS and Postal Service employees, the government said. The indictment is part of an ongoing investigation by DHS and Postal Service inspector generals and was announced by the two agencies, the Justice Department and the U.S. attorney's office for the District of Columbia, which is prosecuting the case.

The case appears to match details revealed in the April guilty plea of a DHS federal technology manager. The manager admitted to conspiring with a former acting inspector general matching Edwards's description to steal a database managing more than 150,000 internal investigations and containing personal data of nearly 250,000 DHS employees, court filings show.

The manager gave copies of the database to the former executive to develop a commercial version for resale. The database was valued at more than $3.1 million and included "critical, confidential information," a federal judge said at a plea hearing.

Sonal Patel, 44, of Sterling, Virginia, was released on personal recognizance and has been cooperating with the government pending sentencing. She faces up to five years in prison after pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit theft of government property.

According to plea filings, Patel worked as a branch chief in the information technology division of the inspector general's office. From October 2014 until 2017, Patel used her position to access and copy source code and database information of DHS and Postal Service employees to pass to co-conspirators, the government said.

In June 2016, her plea statement said, she handed two DVDs with copied data to a co-conspirator "on the side of the road" before the latter boarded a flight from Dulles International Airport to meet with software developers in India.

Court filings also show that the co-conspirator worked at DHS from February 2008 until 2013, including as acting inspector general, and before that at the Transportation Security Administration and the Postal Service, where the individual supervised Patel.