Vangent employees charged with checking Obama records were fired

FINAL WRITETHRU:

By Source Media Group

The nine Iowa City-area Vangent employees accused of illegally accessing President Obama’s student loan records were all fired last year, a spokeswoman said on Thursday.
Eileen Cassidy Rivera of the Arlington, Va.-based Vangent said the nine workers, not the company, were the subject of an investigation by the U.S. Department of Education, and that Vangent cooperated fully with the investigation.
Vangent officials, she added, do not believe the violation of company security policies was politically motivated.
The nine face federal charges of exceeding authorized computer access. A federal grand jury returned the indictments, which were unsealed Wednesday.
The nine are to be arraigned at 2 p.m. Monday May 24 in federal court in Davenport. The charge is punishable by up to one year in prison and a fine of up to $100,000.
Vangent is a call center, located at 2450 Oakdale Blvd. in Coralville. handling incoming calls for various agencies, including financial aid applications for the U.S. Department of Education. The forms contain confidential financial and family information. They do not ask the applicant’s place of birth — a point that Obama “birthers” pursue — but only if the applicant is a citizen and has lived in the United States for five years.
Federal authorities have not said why the nine sought access to the president’s student loan records or if the information was used in any way. Rivera also declined to comment on why they accessed the records.
“We do not know the intentions of the former employees,” Rivera said. “However, no evidence of misuse of the data by the former employees was found.”
She said Vangent has worked with the Department of Education for 30 years and that the Coralville office’s contract with the agency remains active.
The student loan records were accessed between July 2007 and March 2009, when Obama was either a presidential candidate, the president-elect or the president, authorities said.
The White House declined to comment Thursday.
Catherine Grant, a spokeswoman with the U.S. Department of Education, said officials can’t comment or offer more details about ongoing investigations.
Those charged are Andrew J. Lage, 54, Patrick E. Roan, 51, Sandra Teague, 54, and Mercedes Costoyas, 53, all of Iowa City; Gary Grenell, 58, and Lisa Torney, 49, both of Coralville; Anna Anne C. Rhodes, 32, of Ainsworth Iowa City; Julie L. Kline, 38, of West Branch; and John P. Phommivong, 29, of North Liberty.
Grenell and his wife are now missionaries in Tanzania, his neighbor, Linda Fisher, said on Thursday.
Voting records show that four of those indicted are registered as Democrats, two are registered as Republicans and three are not registered to vote in Johnson County. The two registered as Republicans are Torney and Grenell. Those registered as Democrats are Phommivong, Roan, Lage and Kline.
Teague on Wednesday evening said she never accessed Obama’s student loan records. She said she had seven ID numbers for different Vangent databases — IDs that changed every 30 days — and that she wrote the numbers on a sticky note she kept in her desk drawer.
She said she was interviewed by Department of Education and Office of Inspector General agents who suggested a better place for her to keep her ID numbers. She thought the matter was resolved, but said she was fired “for cause” in 2008. She said she was not told what the cause was.
The company’s other former employees either could not be reached or declined to comment on Thursday.
Reporters Diane Heldt, James Q. Lynch and Justin Foss and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Update 3:15 p.m. by Trish Mehaffey

Patrick Roan and Anna Anne Rhodes are the only indicted former Vangent employees with any criminal history, according to Iowa Courts Online. Roan was convicted of misdemeanor trespassing in 1993 and Rhodes was convicted of compulsory education violation in 1999. Both served no jail time, only paid fines.

Update at 2:35 p.m. Thursday by Diane Heldt

Catherine Grant, a spokeswoman with the U.S. Department of Education, said officials can’t comment or offer more details about ongoing investigations, which this case is. She said once investigations are completed, officials will provide more information. She didn’t know when that might be.

Update at 11:30 a.m. Thursday by Diane Heldt

In a follow-up e-mail, Vangent spokeswoman Eileen Cassidy Rivera said the investigation was initiated by the U.S. Department of Education, and Vangent fully cooperated with the investigation. Rivera said Vangent officials do not believe the violation of company security policies was politically motivated.

Update 11:24 a.m. Thursday by Trish Mehaffey

I’ve called Lisa Torney and Mercedes Costoyas and left messages for comments.

I sent emails to Andrew Lage, Anna Anne Rhodes. I’ve looked for others on Facebook but they weren’t listed.

UPDATE at 11:10 a.m. Thursday by Diane Heldt

A Vangent company spokeswoman based in Arlington, Va., in a statement today said the nine employees, not Vangent, were the subject of the investigation.

The statement from Eileen Cassidy Rivera, vice president of communications and investor relations, said “An investigation identified a number of Vangent employees, among others, who inappropriately accessed student loan records.  The Vangent employees violated Vangent’s security policies and were promptly terminated from the company in June 2009.  Vangent was not the subject of the investigation.”

Voting records from the Johnson County Auditor’s office show that four of those indicted are registered as Democrats, and two are registered as Republicans. Three of those indicted — Anna C. Rhodes, 32; Mercedes Costoyas, 53; and Sandra Teague, 54 – were not registered to vote in Johnson County.

The six who were registered all voted in the 2008 general election. Those registered as Democrats are: John P. Phommivong, 29; Patrick E. Roan, 51; Andrew J. Lage, 54; and Julie L. Kline, 38, who was registered in Cedar County.  The two registered as Republicans are Lisa L. Torney, 49, and Gary N. Grenell, 58.

UPDATE at 9 p.m. Wednesday by Justin Foss/Sourcemedia Group

DAVENPORT — Nine Iowa City-area people face federal charges, accused of accessing the student loan records of President Barack Obama while he was a presidential candidate, the president-elect or the president.

One of the women named in the indictment says she didn’t do it.

“I don’t know what the others did, but I know that I did not do it,” Sandra Teague, 54, of Iowa City, said last night.

The indictments were unsealed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Davenport.

Accused are Teague; Andrew J. Lage, 54; Patrick E. Roan, 51; John P. Phommivong, 29; Anna Anne C. Rhodes, 32; Gary Grenell, 58; Lisa Torney, 49; Julie L. Kline, 38; and Mercedes Costoyas, 53. No addresses were given, but online databases show all are living in the Iowa City-Coralville area. They are to be arraigned at 2 p.m. May 24 in Davenport.

The government said in a news release that the nine worked at a Department of Education contractor in Coralville, which it did not identify, when the offenses took place.

Teague said she and four others named in the indictment had worked at Vangent, 2450 Oakdale Blvd. She did not know about the other four.

Vangent contracts to handle incoming calls for a variety of agencies, including calls on federal student aid for the U.S. Department of Education and calls regarding Medicare and Medicaid for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The nine are charged with exceeding authorized computer access at some time between July 26, 2007, and March 13, 2009. If convicted, they each face up to a year in prison and a $100,000 fine.

Teague said she worked for Vangent for 10 years before she was dismissed “with cause” in, she recalls, August 2008 and walked from the building by company officials.

“The company never told me the reason I was dismissed,” said Teague, who is enrolled in classes at the University of Iowa.

Teague said she found out Wednesday that a grand jury had returned an indictment against her for looking up the federal student loan records of Obama when he was a candidate for president.

“All of it was a shock to begin with because I knew I had not done that,” Teague said. “I knew that something had occurred and that there was a breach of security.”

While working at Vangent, Teague said, she helped people complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, form.

Teague said in order to do her job, she had different ID numbers for each database and different IDs for different versions of the same database. The ID numbers would change every 30 days, she said.

“I had seven different numbers, and I couldn’t remember them all, all the time,” she said.

She said she wrote the ID numbers on a sticky note and attached it to the inside of her desk drawer.

“It was assumed that the building had better controlled access, but it turns out it wasn’t,” she said.

Teague said she was questioned about the record breach by special agents for the Department of Education and Office of the Inspector General. After the interview, Teague said, an agent suggested a better place to keep her ID numbers.

Teague said she thought at the time the matter was resolved. What gave her the most relief, she added, was that the agent told her she wasn’t checked into the building when computers indicate Obama’s loan records were accessed.

Teague said she only found out Obama had federal student loans after someone mentioned it at a department meeting.  Teague said she was planning her wedding at the time the records were accessed and didn’t have any reason to look up Obama’s records.

“I didn’t even pay attention to the election,” she said. “I didn’t have time.”

A spokesman with the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Iowa declined to comment. Vangent officials could not be reached last night.

Update at 7:55 p.m. by Justin Foss / Sourcemedia Group

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THE PRESS RELEASE:

DAVENPORT – U.S. Attorney Nicholas A. Klinefeldt announced today that the federal grand jury in Davenport has returned indictments charging nine individuals with accessing the student loan records of President Obama without authorization.

Specifically, the indictments allege that at various times during the period running from July 26, 2007, through March 13, 2009, the defendants, while employed by a contractor for the U.S. Department of
Education, intentionally exceeded authorized access to a computer, and thereby obtained information from a department and agency of the United States.

In this case, the defendants are alleged to have accessed the student loan records of the President of the United States, without authorization, either while he was President, President-elect or a candidate for the Presidency. This would be a violation of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 1030(a)(2)(B) and 1030(c)(2)(A).

If convicted, each defendant faces up to one year in prison, a fine of not more than $100,000, or both.

Arraignments in federal court in Davenport are scheduled for Monday, May 24, 2010, at 2:00 pm.

The nine defendants listed below were all employees of a Department of Education contractor in Coralville, Iowa, at the time of these alleged offenses:

Andrew J. Lage, 54
Patrick E. Roan, 51
Sandra Teague, 54
John P. Phommivong, 29
Anna Anne C. Rhodes, 32
Gary N. Grenell, 58
Lisa Torney, 49
Julie L. Kline, 38
Mercedes Costoyas, 53

U.S. Attorney Nicholas A. Klinefeldt reminds the public that each charge is merely an accusation, and that each defendant is presumed innocent of each and every charge until and unless proven guilty.

This case is being prosecuted by the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Iowa. The case has been investigated by the Department of Education, Office of Inspector General.


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