A Salt Lake City information technology employee is accused of accessing sensitive police information and trading it for sex in a deal with a human trafficking suspect, court records show.
The 50-year-old IT employee had “full access to the police department as well as all city and law enforcement databases,” according to a probable cause statement. He was arrested on suspicion of exploiting prostitution, aiding prostitution, computer crimes, obstruction of justice and theft.
In a statement Thursday, Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall said she is “deeply troubled by the circumstances and information” in the allegations. The suspect has been placed on administrative leave.
“I’m urging the HR department to move through the disciplinary process quickly to ensure this is resolved as fast as possible,” Mendenhall said.
According to a probable cause statement, the employee is suspected of engaging in a deal with Michael Joe Ricks, 49, who was charged on Oct. 7 with multiple counts of aggravated human trafficking, aggravated exploitation of prostitution and multiple drug-related charges.
The document states that the employee provided Ricks with sensitive police information via encrypted messages, including names and phone numbers of undercover officers working to investigate prostitution and human trafficking crimes, as well as inside knowledge of when such undercover operations were happening at apartments or hotels where Ricks allegedly operated.
In exchange, at least two victims told police they were “forced to perform sex acts” with the suspect, who was referred to as “The Guardian,” the document states.
The suspect was arrested Wednesday. When questioned by police, he admitted he had accessed Salt Lake City databases from his home, but said the information he provided to Ricks and others was “false and not legitimate,” according to the probable cause statement.
While serving a search warrant at the suspect’s home, police officers found electronic storage devices that contained sensitive law enforcement data, “including the names of undercover officers, metro gang files, and other law enforcement restricted documents” from multiple restricted databases or files, the document states.
As of Thursday, the suspect is being held without bail at the Salt Lake County jail. According to police, the poses a “substantial risk” to the witnesses in the case as well as law enforcement personnel, because he has access to data “that may be used to locate, retaliate, or harm law enforcement officers involved in this investigation.”
The document notes that city officials are “unsure as to the extent or depth of the files that have been accessed.”
In a statement, Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown clarified that the city IT employee was not a member of the Salt Lake City Police Department. Brown said he briefed Mendenhall on the investigation.
“The allegations, as described in court documents, are very concerning,” Brown stated.
Working in collaboration with the Utah Attorney General’s Office, Salt Lake City officers “acted quickly to locate and arrest the employee at the Public Safety Building and to secure evidence as part of the investigation being conducted by the Utah Attorney General’s Office,” he said.
Brown released no further information, citing the ongoing investigation.