April 13 2016 11:48 AM

FBI subpoenas county computers; finds only ‘inappropriate’ photos

As officials were dealing with the fallout of the high-profile arrest of Ingham County Prosecutor Stuart Dunnings last month, the FBI dispatched agents to the county office complex in Mason to search computers for evidence of child pornography.

“I have the unfortunate duty to inform you that the FBI served a subpoena and search/seizure warrant on the County late this afternoon,” county Administrator Tim Dolehanty emailed county commissioners March 17. “According to these documents, the FBI has reason to believe that one of our computers was used in a transaction involving child pornography.”

Dolehanty added that the computer in question might have been misidentified, “but the FBI agent seemed very certain about their conclusion.” The FBI also informed Dolehanty the investigation was unrelated to any ongoing criminal charges and investigation of Dunning, who was charged just three days earlier with 14 misdemeanor crimes and one felony related to allegations he frequented prostitutes in three counties.

The computer in question was thought to be in the Drain Commissioner's Office in Mason, Drain Commissioner Patrick Lindemann said Tuesday. The agents came to the offices and asked to search the computers. Lindemann said he told FBI officials to “have at it.”

Lindemann said the feds had completed their investigation of the Drain Commissioner’s Office computers and had found no illegal child pornography. However, the search did reveal inappropriate photographs and entertainment files on at least one computer.

“They said, we didn’t find anything illegal, but you do have a human resources issue,” Lindemann said.

Lindemann

The county is following its human resources policy for inappropriate use of county computer equipment, Lindemann said. Citing personnel privacy matters, he declined to discuss the ongoing process any further.

Jill Washburn, a spokeswoman for the FBI Office in Detroit, declined to discuss the subpoena or the investigation.

“This is kind of a weird situation, so we are not — because of the way this is — we are not commenting at all at this point,” she said. “This whole thing is a little different than the norm.”

The investigation by the FBI has prompted significant changes in the drain commissioner’s information technology policies and procedures, Lindemann said.

“We know someone in the parking lot could get into our internet and computers,” he said, referring to recent revelations about security issues in the county’s system. “Now we’re changing the protocols so we can say exactly which computer went somewhere.”

Under the new program, surfing the web will require users to affirm an intent to visit a webpage. That affirmation will be logged in a system which tracks the specific computer as well as which websites were visited and which time.

In February, City Pulse reported that Vince Foess, interim director of innovation and technology department for the county, had warned county commissioners that the county’s systems could be vulnerable to outside hacking.

“Somebody sitting in Europe could log into this thing right now. It’s all webbased,” Foess told the County Services Committee last week. By “this thing,” Foess meant the internal systems designed to deliver a variety of personnel and other matters throughout the county.

“The IT department continues its ongoing quest to identify and address vulnerabilities to our network,” Dolehanty said. “For security reasons, we respectfully decline to specifically identify any suspected vulnerabilities.”

But Kara Hope, D-Delhi Township, who chairs the Board of Commissioners, said Foess’ concerns would have applied to the situation with the Drain Commissioner’s Office. “He’s essentially is on his own system over there,” she said. Unlike most county computers, there is no firewall protection in Lindemann’s office.

Countywide elected officials, such as the clerk, treasurer, register of deeds, sheriff and the prosecutor are not necessarily bound by policies or to use systems established by the Board of Commissioners.

When the county adopted a more stringent ethics policy implementation last year in response to allegations tthat he former head of the IT department, Michael Ashton, had taken sporting event tickets and other junkets from county technology contractors; the commission could only ask that countywide elected officials implement the ethics policy in their offices. The Board of Commissioners, Hope said, had no authority to make those offices adopt the policy.

Hope said had the Drain Commissioner’s Office been on the county’s IT system, the situation would like not have happened.

“If they had been on the county system, no one would have able to access these sites,” she said.

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