A former State Department employee was sentenced today to 24 months of probation for illegally accessing more than 65 confidential passport application files. Karal Busch, 28, of District Heights, Md., was also ordered by U.S. Magistrate Judge Alan Kay in the District of Columbia to perform 25 hours of community service. Busch pleaded guilty on Aug. 26, 2009, to a one-count criminal information charging her with unauthorized computer access.
According to court documents, Busch worked full-time for the State Department as a citizens services specialist in the Office of Children’s Issues from June 2003 through July 2006. In pleading guilty, Busch admitted that she had access to official State Department computer databases in the regular course of her employment, including the Passport Information Electronic Records System (PIERS), which contains all imaged passport applications dating back to 1994. 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, Busch admitted that between March 4, 2004, and June 1, 2006, she logged onto the PIERS database and viewed the passport applications of more than 65 celebrities and their families, actors, professional athletes, musicians, models and other individuals identified in the press. Busch admitted that she had no official government reason to access and view these passport applications, but that her sole purpose in accessing and viewing these passport applications was idle curiosity.
Busch is the ninth current or former State Department employee or contractor to plead guilty in this continuing investigation. On Sept. 22, 2008, Lawrence C. Yontz, a former Foreign Service Officer and intelligence analyst, pleaded guilty to unlawfully accessing nearly 200 confidential passport files. Yontz was sentenced on Dec. 19, 2008, to 12 months of probation and ordered to perform 50 hours of community service. On Jan. 14, 2009, Dwayne F. Cross, a former administrative assistant and contract specialist, pleaded guilty to unlawfully accessing more than 150 confidential passport files. Cross was sentenced on March 23, 2009, to 12 months of probation and ordered to perform 100 hours of community service. On Jan. 27, 2009, Gerald R. Lueders, a former Foreign Service Officer, watch officer and recruitment coordinator, pleaded guilty to unlawfully accessing more than 50 confidential passport files. Lueders was sentenced on July 8, 2009, to 12 months of probation and ordered to pay a $5,000 fine. On July 10, 2009, William A. Celey, a file assistant, pleaded guilty to unlawfully accessing more than 75 confidential passport files. Celey was sentenced on Oct. 23, 2009, to 12 months of probation and ordered to perform 50 hours of community service. On Aug. 17, 2009, Kevin M. Young, a contact representative, pleaded guilty to unlawfully accessing more than 125 confidential passport files. Young was sentenced on Dec. 9, 2009, to 12 months of probation and ordered to perform 100 hours of community service. On Oct. 27, 2009, Yvette M. Burrison, a passport specialist, pleaded guilty to unlawfully accessing nearly 100 confidential passport files. A sentencing date has not yet been scheduled for Burrison. On Nov. 9, 2009, Susan Holloman, a file assistant, pleaded guilty to unlawfully accessing 70 confidential passport files. Holloman is scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 21, 2010. On Aug. 26, 2009, Debra Sue Brown, a file assistant, pleaded guilty to unlawfully accessing more than 60 confidential passport files. Brown is scheduled to be sentenced on Mar. 23, 2010.
These cases are being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Armando O. Bonilla of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section. The cases are being investigated by the State Department Office of Inspector General.