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Monday, September 22, 2008
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Former State Department Employee Pleads Guilty to Illegally Accessing Confidential Passport Files

WASHINGTON – A former State Department employee pleaded guilty today to illegally accessing hundreds of confidential passport application files, Acting Assistant Attorney General Matthew Friedrich of the Criminal Division announced.

Lawrence C. Yontz, 48, of Arlington, Va., pleaded guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge John M. Facciola in Washington, D.C., to a one-count criminal information charging him with unauthorized computer access. At sentencing, Yontz faces a maximum sentence of one year in prison, a $100,000 fine and a $25 special assessment. Sentencing has been scheduled for Dec. 19, 2008.

According to court documents, between September 1987 and April 1996, Yontz served as a foreign service officer for the State Department. He returned to the agency as a contract employee in January 2004 to work as an intelligence analyst within the Bureau of Intelligence and Research. In the regular course of his employment, Yontz admitted he had access to official State Department computer databases, including the Passport Information Electronic Records System (PIERS), which contains, among other data, all imaged passport applications dating back to 1994. According to information contained in plea documents, the imaged passport applications on PIERS contain, among other things, a photograph of the passport applicant as well as certain personal information including the applicant’s full name, date and place of birth, current address, telephone numbers, parent information, spouse’s name and emergency contact information. These confidential files are protected by the Privacy Act of 1974, and access by State Department employees is strictly limited to official government duties.

In pleading guilty, Yontz admitted that between February 2005 and March 2008, he logged onto the PIERS database and viewed the passport applications of approximately 200 celebrities, athletes, actors, politicians and their immediate families, musicians, game show contestants, members of the media corps, prominent business professionals, colleagues, associates, neighbors and individuals identified in the press. Yontz admitted that he had no official government reason to access and view these passport applications, but that his sole purpose in accessing and viewing these passport applications was idle curiosity.

The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Armando O. Bonilla of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section, headed by Section Chief William M. Welch II. Trial Attorney Jaikumar Ramaswamy of the Criminal Division’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section assisted in the investigation of this matter. The case is being investigated by the State Department Office of Inspector General.