Probe into fired Utah DMV employee began with suspicious car fire
The investigation into an employee at the Utah Division of Motor Vehicle accused of illegally accessing and sharing citizens' personal information was sparked by her alleged connection to a suspicious car fire in 2012.
The woman was fired in March after Salt Lake City fire investigators served the Salt Lake City DMV offices with a search warrant for her work computer, alleging the woman admitted she had illegally accessed her work database and given confidential information to others in order to commit crimes, according to DMV spokesman Charlie Roberts.
According to the search warrant filed in 3rd District Court, fire investigators were called to a home near 1400 North and 1965 West on June 20 after a car was set on fire. Investigators determined that the vehicle was intentionally set on fire, fueled by an "incendiary device."
As fire officials investigated, they learned the vehicle's owner had been involved in a "road rage incident" just hours before, with a woman driving a blue pickup truck.
A week later, fire officials received an anonymous tip stating that the woman driving the pickup truck worked at the DMV and was likely involved in the suspicious fire, according to the search warrant.
Investigators tracked her down and interviewed her at the Salt Lake City police department. According to the search warrant, the woman admitted to using her work computer "to illegally acquire personal information about private citizens."
She also admitted to giving the information to other people "for the sole purpose and with the understanding the information would be used to commit crimes against the unsuspecting citizen," according to the search warrant.
Salt Lake City Fire Marshal Martha Ellis said Thursday that investigators are unsure what criminal acts could be conducted with the DMV information and said the woman did not offer any further detail about any alleged crimes during her interview.
Roberts noted that the employee did not have access to Social Security numbers or date-of-birth information, but she did have access to names, vehicle information and home addresses.
The woman allegedly admitted to illegally using her computer-access privileges on multiple occasions during the 14 years she had worked at the DMV.
She also admitted to investigators that she told her husband about the road rage incident, hoping for retaliation, according to the search warrant. She allegedly said that she "most likely" used her computer access at the DMV to identify the other driver in the incident.
Whether it was the woman, her husband or another person who torched the car is still unknown, according to Ellis.
Ellis said investigators are waiting for an official audit from the state to give them a better idea of how and when the woman accessed the system.
"We want to wait for the rest of the information," she said. "We don't want to lay the charges out there until we know what we're dealing with."
Roberts said investigators took the woman's work hard drive, computer, printer and anything that might contain data that can be analyzed by a forensics lab.
But he added that the DMV has not been involved with the criminal investigation and did not know if any charges would be filed against the woman related to the data access.
The matter is an administrative one for the DMV, and it isn't their policy to make a public announcement about such a compromise of information, Roberts said.
Roberts said the DMV software system does not have the ability to track who accessed what information at what time, making it difficult to determine how much information was compromised.
"What we do believe is this is an isolated incident with one employee over a short period," Roberts said.