DHS tech manager steals data on 150k investigations

A federal technology manager admitted to conspiring with a former acting inspector general of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to steal a data­base managing more than 150,000 internal investigations and containing personal data of nearly 250,000 DHS employees, as court filings show, The Washington Post writes.

The manager gave copies of the database — valued at more than $3.1 million and including “critical, confidential information,” a federal judge said at a plea hearing — to a former DHS acting inspector general to develop a commercial version of the management system and sell that back to other government agencies.

Sonal Patel, 44, of Sterling, Va., faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison after pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit theft of government property, and agreeing to cooperate with prosecutors regarding a scheme that ran from 2014 to 2017.

“I plead guilty,” said Patel, who was accompanied by attorney Thomas C. Hillin court.

U.S. District Judge Rosemary M. Collyer of Washington accepted the plea and set a hearing date for June 5.

As part of a plea deal, Collyer agreed to delay sentencing while Patel cooperates with prosecutors with the U.S. attorney’s office for the District of Columbia and the Justice Department’s public integrity section. Under the deal, prosecutors agreed not to charge Patel with any other offenses.

“Our expectation is that Ms. Patel will be cooperating for the next at least five to six months,” after which the government may consider requesting leniency, said Assistant U.S. Attorney David B. Kent, who is handling the case with Justice Department trial attorney Victor R. Salgado.

Officials did not name “Co-Conspirator 1” in court papers, but detailed a government work history and identified an associated Maryland business that the person founded.

A former DHS acting inspector general whose biography appears to match the court filings and appears to have founded a business of the same name, according to online corporate records, did not return telephone messages Thursday seeking an interview.

According to plea filings, Patel worked as a branch chief in the information technology division of the inspector general’s office and oversaw the development and maintenance of its Enforcement Database System, which was modeled after a similar ­inspector-general system with the U.S. Postal Service, where Patel worked before 2009.

From October 2014 until 2017, Patel “used your position within the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General to access and create copies of EDS’s source code, [the] database and personal identifying information” of DHS and Postal Service employees “to provide to co-conspirators to develop a private, commercial version of ‘EDS 2.0,’ ” Collyer said, reciting the government’s evidence.

Patel’s partners worked to develop and sell a commercial version to the U.S. Agriculture Department, Collyer said.

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