Investigators Trying to Determine If Access Was Illegal
By Randy Ludlow
"State and local officials are investigating if state and law-enforcement computer systems were illegally accessed when they were tapped for personal information about "Joe the Plumber."
Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher became part of the national political lexicon Oct. 15 when Republican presidential candidate John McCain mentioned him frequently during his final debate with Democrat Barack Obama. The 34-year-old from the Toledo suburb of Holland is held out by McCain as an example of an American who would be harmed by Obama's tax proposals. Continued...
Public records requested by The Dispatch disclose that information on Wurzelbacher's driver's license or his sport-utility vehicle was pulled from the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles database three times shortly after the debate.
Information on Wurzelbacher was accessed by accounts assigned to the office of Ohio Attorney General Nancy H. Rogers, the Cuyahoga County Child Support Enforcement Agency and the Toledo Police Department.
It has not been determined who checked on Wurzelbacher, or why. Direct access to driver's license and vehicle registration information from BMV computers is restricted to legitimate law enforcement and government business.
Paul Lindsay, Ohio spokesman for the McCain campaign, attempted to portray the inquiries as politically motivated. "It's outrageous to see how quickly Barack Obama's allies would abuse government power in an attempt to smear a private citizen who dared to ask a legitimate question," he said.
Isaac Baker, Obama's Ohio spokesman, denounced Lindsay's statement as charges of desperation from a campaign running out of time. "Invasions of privacy should not be tolerated. If these records were accessed inappropriately, it had nothing to do with our campaign and should be investigated fully," he said.
The attorney general's office is investigating if the access of Wuzelbacher's BMV information through the office's Ohio Law Enforcement Gateway computer system was unauthorized, said spokeswoman Jennifer Brindisi.
"We're trying to pinpoint where it came from," she said. The investigation could become "criminal in nature," she said. Brindisi would not identify the account that pulled the information on Oct. 16.
Records show it was a "test account" assigned to the information technology section of the attorney general's office, said Department of Public Safety spokesman Thomas Hunter.
Brindisi later said investigators have confirmed that Wurzelbacher's information was not accessed within the attorney general's office. She declined to provide details. The office's test accounts are shared with and used by other law enforcement-related agencies, she said.
On Oct. 17, BMV information on Wurzelbacher was obtained through an account used by the Cuyahoga County Child Support Enforcement Agency in Cleveland, records show.
Mary Denihan, spokeswoman for the county agency, said the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services contacted the agency today and requested an investigation of the access to Wurzelbacher's information. Cuyahoga County court records do not show any child-support cases involving Wurzelbacher.
The State Highway Patrol, which administers the Law Enforcement Automated Data System in Ohio, asked Toledo police to explain why it pulled BMV information on Wurzelbacher within 48 hours of the debate, Hunter said.
The LEADS system also can be used to check for warrants and criminal histories, but such checks would not be reflected on the records obtained by The Dispatch.
Sgt. Tim Campbell, a Toledo police spokesman, said he could not provide any information because the department only had learned of the State Highway Patrol inquiry today.
Source: The Columbus Dispatch