Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2008

Official hacks boss’ e-mail account

Felton said to have admitted password theft, sending fraudulent messages

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Chris Rossi⁄The Gazette
Assistant City Manager Fred Felton listens to Mayor Sidney A. Katz during Monday night’s City Council meeting. The veteran staffer apparently hacked into the city manager’s e-mail account on Oct. 28 and sent two messages to a female co-worker and another to himself regarding his job performance.
A Gaithersburg assistant city manager apparently violated city policy in October by hacking into the then-city manager’s e-mail and sending inappropriate messages from the account.

One of the messages was sent to a young woman who works part time in the city’s environmental services division and included an emoticon, a keyboard symbol, known in the electronic messaging world as a reference to large breasts, according to a copy of the e-mail obtained by The Gazette.

A second message to the woman read: ‘‘You are soo hot!!!!!!!!!,” a copy of the e-mail shows.

The woman said she considered the messages a joke.

Obtaining unauthorized access to someone’s e-mail account can be a criminal offense, Gaithersburg Police Chief John King said.

The messages were sent from David Humpton’s account on Sunday, Oct. 28, his last day as Gaithersburg’s city manager. Assistant City Manager Fred Felton admitted to accessing the city manager’s e-mail using Humpton’s secret password, according to a Nov. 2 letter from Humpton to Mayor Sidney A. Katz and the five-member City Council obtained by The Gazette.

‘‘It has come to my attention that my city e-mail account was improperly accessed and used by Assistant City Manager Fred Felton while I was still acting in my capacity as city manager,” Humpton wrote. ‘‘Mr. Felton’s actions have impugned my reputation by sending an e-mail with sexual overtones in my name to another employee and his actions demonstrate a complete lack of honesty and integrity that is not befitting an assistant city manager.”

Humpton said in an interview that he saw the messages appear on his Blackberry as they were sent. He also said his office door was locked.

‘‘I’m not going to comment on that issue,” Felton said on Monday. ‘‘I discussed it with Acting City Manager Jim Arnoult.”

Arnoult would not discuss specifics, citing the confidentiality of personnel issues.

‘‘I can say that an incident occurred, and I did a thorough investigation and I took the appropriate action,” Arnoult said. He would not say what, if any, disciplinary action was taken against Felton.

Meredith Strider, the recent college graduate to whom Felton sent the e-mails, said Monday that she was at City Hall near the city manager’s office when she received the messages and ‘‘understood” who had sent them.

‘‘Honestly, I believe that this has all been blown out of proportion,” she said. ‘‘This was obviously a joke and I don’t believe that e-mail jokes are newsworthy. That’s all I have to say.”

But Humpton wasn’t amused.

His letter states that he notified Arnoult and Pete Cotrell, director of information technology, of the e-mail abuse on Oct. 29, and that Arnoult subsequently told him Felton admitted sending the e-mails using Humpton’s password to access the account.

‘‘My password was not written down, so he obviously obtained it in some other way,” Humpton wrote.

Felton sent the third fraudulent e-mail to himself. The subject line said: ‘‘Dave, let me know if you want to make changes.” Attached was a Dec. 13, 2006, memo by Humpton regarding Felton’s job performance.

Using another employee’s password and sending e-mails under another city staffer’s account is ‘‘inappropriate ... and it’s all a violation of our Internet usage policy,” Arnoult said Friday.

Chief King said such actions can also be criminal, depending on the facts of a situation. He said he was not consulted about the Felton case.

According to state law, anyone who ‘‘intentionally, willfully and without authorization accesses, attempts to access, causes access” to a computer or computer network, software, control language, system, services or database may be charged with a misdemeanor and face a $1,000 fine and up to three years in prison.

Given the seriousness of the violations, Humpton said in his letter that he felt he had no choice other than to alert the mayor and council of the situation so that appropriate disciplinary action would be taken.

Katz declined to comment. ‘‘Because that would be a personnel issue, I think it would be inappropriate to discuss that.”

Felton, who has worked for the city for more than 18 years, is one of two assistant city managers. He supervises the Planning and Code Administration, inter-government relations and mayor and council services.

This is the second time Felton has been in the news in six weeks. On Nov. 30 Felton was with Del. Kumar Barve (D-Dist-17) of Gaithersburg at a Gaithersburg bar just before the delegate’s arrest for drunk driving. Barve called Felton from the county police station, and Felton then called city police and requested a ride to the station.

Felton later said the decision to involve city personnel in a private matter was inappropriate.

As for the e-mail abuse, Humpton, who is now the executive vice president of the Montgomery Village Foundation, said he was hurt and disappointed by it.

‘‘I didn’t understand it; I still don’t understand it,” he said.