Madison County Board fires top Republicans for hacking emails

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Labor-endorsed candidate for board chair Bob Daiber, Board member Chris Hankins, of IBEW 309, lead call for changes

POLICE SEIZED computers and documents from Madison County administrative offices in January 2018. That raid had no led to the dismissal of the county administrator and information technology officer. – Screencap from Belleville News Democrat video

Edwardsville IL – A week of turmoil in the Madison County government came to a head April 16 when the County Board fired the county administrator and information technology (IT) director.

It was the latest development in an ongoing saga in which Republican administrators were accused of abusing their powers, computers were seized from their offices, and other county officials waited in vain for the Illinois Attorney General’s office to file charges.

It remains a major setback for County Board Chairman Kurt Prenzler, a Republican running for re-election against a stern challenge from Labor-endorsed Democrat Bob Daiber, the former regional school superintendent and a strong Labor ally.

The administrator, Doug Hulme, and the IT director, Rob Dorman, were accused of improperly accessing emails and other data for political purposes, which led to a two-year investigation that ended with no charges filed but a public release on Monday, April 13, of information it collected.

They said on Friday, April 17, they would appeal the decision.

On Thursday, after a three-hour closed meeting, the board voted 26-1, in a bipartisan vote to fire the county administrator and IT officer. The only “no” vote came from Don Moore (R-Troy) who said board members were acting too quickly.

Democratic board members had filed motions to terminate the officials, but Prenzler objected, saying he disagreed with the process. He had called for an independent investigation or hearing after he had placed the two officials on administrative leave.

Daiber had called for the dismissals and for an outside company to take over the information technology system.

“A criminal investigation by six law enforcement agencies has made it clear how extensive corruption and abuses of power are in the Prenzler administration,” he said. “Madison County must act now to restore public trust by immediately dismissing the Prenzler aides who have committed these truly shocking actions.”

HACKING, PAY FOR PLAY
Affidavits from the investigation accused Prenzler’s staff of:

  • A pay-for-play scheme to offer a county job to a congressional staffer in exchange for appointing longtime Republican attorney Don Weber to a U.S. attorney position.
  • Hacking into and spying on emails of county judges and elected officials for political purposes, while those officials are not under the chairman’s jurisdiction.
  • Releasing sensitive and legally privileged information about criminal cases found through illegally accessing judges’ emails.
  • Letting non-employees search county emails for campaign purposes, breaching the security of the county’s computer network.

“The abuses of power by Kurt Prenzler’s administration are mind-boggling in their scope – reminiscent of the actions taken by the Nixon administration that led to the Watergate scandal and the resignation of the president,” Daiber said.

DATA SECURITY
County Board members Chris Hankins (D-Pontoon Beach) an organizer for IBEW Local 309, and Mike Parkinson (D-Granite City) called for the county to have stronger data security rules and hire an outside firm to manage the IT system.

“When the IT department gave both employees and non-employees the ability to read emails, they opened the door to access Social Security numbers and confidential health and legal information that must be protected by law,” Parkinson said.

Hankins and Parkinson offered this plan to strengthen information operations:

  • Remove power to access emails from the IT Department.
  • Have compliance officers from each department manage Freedom of Information requests and protect confidential information.
  • Use software that makes an audit trail of searches and requests for information, for a monthly report to the County Board.
  • Bid out IT work over $5,000 and require two-thirds County Board consent for multi-year contracts.
  • Hire a security consultant to build firewalls limiting access to emails and protecting confidentiality.

“I am deeply concerned about the access both county employees and non-employees received to confidential and legally protected data and whether their actions to breach basic security protocols have opened up our network to cyber criminals,” Hankins said.

“We all have seen the damage caused to people when their personal data was stolen by cybercriminals who breached the firewalls of Target, Sony, Equifax, Marriott and so many more companies. We need to act quickly to protect the citizens of Madison County and not allow Kurt Prenzler and his aides to sweep this under the rug.”

2018 RAID
The issue came to light in January 2018, when police authorized by State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons raided county administrative offices, carrying out computers and documents. The case was sent to the 2nd Judicial Circuit in Mount Vernon and lingered while state police investigated. Eventually it came before Attorney General Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago) who decided not to pursue charges.

But when the documents were unsealed on April 13, Madison County Democrats found sufficient evidence in them to demand action against Hulme and Dorman, leading to the April 16 firings.

Capt. David Vucich, chief of detectives for the Madison County Sheriff’s Department, said there was an “overwhelming” amount of digital evidence and witness testimony and that the seven officers who investigated the case were puzzled by Raoul’s decision.

The Belleville News-Democrat reported on affidavits in which County Treasurer Chris Slusser, a Republican, testified that Hulme and Dornan installed printers to show them what other people were printing and that Hulme told him he had access to “everyone’s emails.”

Hulme issued a statement calling the investigation a “fishing expedition and smear campaign,” the newspaper reported.

On April 15, Prenzler placed Hulme and Dorman on administrative leave, saying the claims against them would be reviewed by a third-party investigation that he predicted would show their actions to be within the policies and procedures of the County Board.

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