By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
A former State Department contractor will plead guilty to illegally accessing the electronic passport records of high-profile politicians, entertainers and other Americans, his lawyer said yesterday.
Lawrence C. Yontz, 48, of Arlington, "accepts responsibility for his actions. He is committed to cooperating with the government, and he is eager to put this matter behind him," attorney David Laufman said.
According to a document filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia last week, Yontz "exceeded his authorized access" to the passport files while working as a contract employee for the State Department's Passport Information Electronic Records System.
Between February 2005 and last March, the Justice Department filing said, Yontz obtained information from the passport files of "various celebrities, athletes, actors, politicians and their immediate families, musicians, game show contestants, members of the media corps, prominent business professionals, colleagues, associates, neighbors, and individuals identified in the press." Federal sentencing guidelines recommend between zero and six months of incarceration for the misdemeanor offense. A plea hearing is scheduled for Monday.
Yontz is the only person charged so far following the discovery in March that three contract workers had snooped in the private passport files of Sens. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) and that a State Department trainee had examined the file of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.).
An audit by the State Department's inspector general later found "weaknesses, including a general lack of policies, procedures, guidance and training" in the office that stores data on 127 million Americans who hold passports.
One celebrity's records were breached 356 times by more than six dozen people, the audit found. The audit determined that personal curiosity about celebrities and well-known Americans was the reason for most of the breaches.
Investigators found that 20,500 government workers and contractors, most of them at the State Department, had access to the electronic files. The files contain data including Social Security numbers, physical descriptions and names and places of birth of the applicant's parents.