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Hughson Public Works director accused of stealing court records

POSTED January 22, 2010 11:25 p.m.
The City of Hughson’s Public Works Director, David Chase, will be arraigned Wednesday on accusations that he deleted accounting files and building permits from the city’s server without authorization.
The Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office filed a criminal complaint against Chase, 54, charging him with one felony count each of unlawful access to a computer system and theft of court records. Investigators suspect Chase remotely accessed the city’s server from his house to delete key financial files and building permits.
In the arrest affidavit, which details the course of the investigation, Chase repeatedly denied the accusations, telling Stanislaus County Sheriff’s detectives that he doesn’t know how or why his login information and password were used to delete the files. In the affidavit, Chase speculated that he was being targeted by Hughson City Councilmembers Thom Crowder, Doug Humphrey, Ben Manley and Finance Director Debra Paul because of a conflict with a union representative and because he raised issues about a possible Brown Act violation by the three councilmembers.
The investigation began in July 2009, when Hughson Police Services Chief Janet Rasmussen contacted the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department about a possible breach of the city’s computers. Sheriff’s Detective Joe Knittel was assigned to the investigation and met with City Manager Joe Donabed, city IT Consultant Cullen Byrne, and computer forensics private investigator Kirk Stockham, who was hired by the city to investigate the computer problems.
The detective was told that on July 13 and 14, 2009, the city’s server was accessed four times remotely and that during that access city files had been deleted. The login information and password used to gain access belonged to Chase, according to the affidavit.
A hard drive was removed from Chase’s office and given to the sheriff’s department.
Within days the sheriff’s department served a search warrant for the IP address used via Comcast Cable Communications. The IP address came back to Chase’s Modesto residence.
On Aug. 3, 2009, investigators served a search warrant on Chase’s Modesto home and they seized a laptop, an external hard drive, a wireless router, and a central processing unit.
In the affidavit, the detective stated Chase told him it was not uncommon for him to work from home because at the time he was serving as the director of the public works, city engineer, and city manager pro-tem.
A forensic analysis of the laptop confirmed it was used to access the city’s server at the times when the files were deleted.
On Aug. 13, 2009, Chase spoke with investigators at the sheriff’s department and again denied any knowledge of the deleted files.
The detectives asked Chase if all of this was spurred by office politics and in fighting and Chase replied that “Hell, yes” some city officials had a motive to frame him.
The detectives went on to ask Chase if maybe the files were deleted on accident and Chase replied, “I don’t know. I’ve asked myself that... I’ve tried to investigate this whole thing in my own mind. I keep coming up against one brick wall of nonsense after another. It doesn’t make any sense. It’s not even an effective way to get back at somebody.”
The city’s server routinely backs up files and all of the deleted material has been retrieved.
In September 2009, Chase had his water treatment license revoked by the state, according to a letter submitted to the City of Hughson from the State Water Resources Control Board. They revoked his license for “submitting false or misleading information on an application to the Office of Operator Certification for a Grade 1 WWTP operator certification.” The letter states that Chase falsely asserted that he spent 20 to 30 hours a week in the actual operation.
This letter was listed as an agenda item for the Hughson City Council meeting on Nov. 23, 2009, for discussion but was later removed by Councilmember Manley. It is now listed on the agenda again for Monday’s Hughson City Council meeting, having been placed on the agenda by Council members Humphreys and Crowder.
Monday’s Hughson City Council meeting will be at 7 p.m. in the Community/Senior Center located at 2307 4th St., in Hughson.
Chase is currently on paid leave from the City. He is scheduled for arraignment at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday in Stanislaus County Superior Court.
— Reporter Maegan Martens contributed to this report.
To contact Sabra Stafford, e-mail sstafford@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2002.
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