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Political researcher pleads guilty to stealing Lt. Governor's Identity

Friday, March 24, 2006

Washington, D.C. - A former Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee researcher has pleaded guilty to fraudulently obtaining a credit score belonging to Maryland’s Lt. Governor Michael S. Steele, United States Attorney Kenneth L. Wainstein and Joseph Persichini, Jr., Acting Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office, announced today.

Lauren B. Weiner, 25, of  Washington, D.C., pleaded guilty today before U.S. Magistrate Judge John M. Facciola to a misdemeanor charge of fraud in connection with computers.

According to a statement signed by the defendant and the government, in 2005,  Weiner  worked at the DSCC as a research associate. In early July 2005, Weiner was conducting online Public Records searches on Maryland’s Lt. Governor Michael S. Steele, who was rumored to be a possible Republican candidate for a U.S. Senate seat. Weiner found records regarding Lt. Gov. Steele and, in these records, Lt. Gov. Steele’s Social Security number.

Weiner spoke with her immediate supervisor, the research director at DSCC  about how she might use a Social Security number to pull up more information. The research director told Weiner that they could get his financial information and suggested using the Social Security number to “check his credit.”

First, Weiner attempted to access a web site offering a credit score from Experian. The web site requested Lt. Gov. Steele’s driver’s license number, which Weiner did not know. Weiner then asked the research director what to do; the research director told Weiner to try another site which did not require the driver’s license number. Weiner found the site to TransUnion, which offers the ability to have consumers order their own credit score. Weiner inputted information as if she were Lt. Gov. Steele; for example, she typed in his name, address, date of birth, Social Security number. Weiner even registered with TransUnion as Lt. Gov. Steele by inventing a password, and answering a “secret question” if she were to forget the password.

At the point where the application requested an “email” account, Weiner typed in “gopsteele@yahoo.com.” Weiner, in fact, had created this email account by registering the account, “gopsteele@yahoo.com”, with Yahoo! from her DSCC computer on July 12, 2005, by completing the required fields with Lt. Gov. Steele’s name and address. (Weiner did not tell the research director that she created an email account for Lt. Gov. Steele).

On the screen with the notation, “[Michael Steele,] your credit score is moments away!,” Weiner encountered a Terms of Use and Service Agreement, which included a requirement that the customer agree, “not to impersonate another person. Weiner clicked on “Accept.” After asking for method of payment (Weiner used the research director’s DSCC credit card number which the research director provided), TransUnion presented a screen labeled “Permission Statement & Confirmation.” The “Permission Statement” requested “written instructions” in order “to obtain information from your personal credit profile. . . to display your credit data to you.” Weiner clicked on “I Agree.” At some point, Weiner sent the research director a “disclaimer” or “terms of use” to the research director, who, not understanding the import of what was requested, told Weiner to “go ahead.”

Then, TransUnion presented a series of screens with the heading, “We need to ensure you are really [Michael Steele].” Weiner did not share these screens with the research director or anyone else from the DSCC. Instead, Weiner answered questions knowing that she was impersonating Lt. Gov. Steele in order to obtain his credit score. For example, the screens asked Weiner to choose from alternatives requesting private information, such as the personal address history, year of birth, revolving account numbers or installment account numbers, or employer.

Weiner chose “personal address” and correctly entered a house number and zip code of Lt. Gov. Steele’s home address which she had found through Public Records. Weiner chose “former employer,” and correctly entered the name of Lt. Gov. Steele’s former business. She also had already correctly inputted the year of birth and Social Security number. After receiving correct answers to the questions on these screens, TransUnion provided Weiner with Lt. Gov. Steele’s personal credit history report on Weiner’s computer. Weiner printed the report and put the copy in her desk. Lt. Gov. Steele did not give Lauren Weiner permission to access his personal credit history report; nor was Weiner authorized to access Lt. Gov. Steele’s credit score under any statutory exception.

Later that same day, the research director notified her supervisors at DSCC that Weiner had obtained Lt. Gov. Steele’s credit score. The supervisors ordered Weiner, through the research director, to immediately destroy the credit score, which she did the following morning. The next day the supervisors reported to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia that Weiner had obtained Lt. Gov. Steele’s credit score. Weiner, and the DSCC, did not use Lt. Gov. Steele’s credit score for any financial or political purpose. No economic loss resulted from Weiner’s actions. Weiner cooperated with the investigating agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, including by disclosing details of her offense to a special agent with the FBI.

Sentencing is scheduled for March 26, 2007. However, the parties agreed that if Weiner abides by certain conditions, then the government will not oppose dismissing the Information and entering a nolle prosequi in the case, thus dismissing the charge and plea at the time of sentencing.

This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Fraud and Public Corruption Section of the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia.

Source: U.S. Department of Justice press release

 

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