State Department Employee Sentenced for Illegally Accessing Confidential Passport Files
A State Department employee was sentenced today to 12 months of probation for illegally accessing more than 60 confidential passport application files, Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Criminal Division announced. Debra Sue Brown, 47, of Oxon Hill, Md., was also ordered by U.S. Magistrate Judge John M. Facciola in the District of Columbia to perform 50 hours of community service. Brown pleaded guilty on Dec. 11, 2009, to a one-count criminal information charging her with unauthorized computer access.
According to court documents, Brown has worked full-time for the State Department since September 1995 as a file clerk and a file assistant in the Bureau of Consular Affairs. In pleading guilty, Brown admitted that she had access to official State Department computer databases in the regular course of her job, 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.
Brown admitted that between March 25, 2005, and Feb. 7, 2008, she logged onto the PIERS database and repeatedly searched for and viewed the passport applications of more than 60 celebrities and their families, actors, comedians, professional athletes, musicians and other individuals identified in the press as well as personal friends and acquaintances. Brown 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.
To date, nine current or former State Department employees or contractors , including Brown, have pleaded 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 Aug. 26, 2009, Karal Busch, a former citizens services specialist, pleaded guilty to unlawfully accessing more than 65 confidential passport files. Busch was sentenced on Dec. 15, 2009, to 24 months of probation and ordered to perform 25 hours of community service. On Oct. 27, 2009, Yvette M. Burrison, a passport specialist, pleaded guilty to unlawfully accessing nearly 100 confidential passport files. Burrison is scheduled to be sentenced on April 7, 2010. On Nov. 9, 2009, Susan Holloman, a file assistant, pleaded guilty to unlawfully accessing 70 confidential passport files. Holloman was sentenced on Jan. 21, 2010, to 12 months of probation and ordered to perform 75 hours of community service.
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.