Fugitive DEA Agent Arrested in Mexico

Former federal agent had skipped out on charges that he sold information from law enforcement computers to a private investigations firm

A 12-year veteran of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) who went on the run last February rather than face federal computer crime charges was arrested in Guadalajara, Mexico last month, and is now being held without bail in Los Angeles where he faces new charges for his brief turn as a fugitive.

Emilio Calatayud, 35, skipped out on a $100,000 property bond on what was scheduled to be his first day of trial on felony charges of illegally selling sensitive information about private citizens from law enforcement computers.

Prosecutors say Calatayud peddled data to Los Angeles private investigations firm Triple Check Investigative Services for six years beginning in 1993, supplementing his government paycheck by anywhere from $1,080 to $8,500 in cash each year. In all, he allegedly earned at least $22,580 with his computer access, at a rate of between $60 and $80 per target.

By those figures, Calatayud would have run queries on approximately 300 - 400 people who were being investigated by Triple Check -- though presumably not all of those people had records to be found.

The purloined data allegedly came from three law enforcement computers to which Calatayud had otherwise lawful access: the FBI's National Crime Information Center (NCIC), which maintains nationwide records on arrest histories, convictions and warrants; the California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System (CLETS), a state network that gives agents access to California motor vehicle records, rap sheets and fingerprints; and a DEA system called the Narcotics and Dangerous Drug Information System (NADDIS), described by a Justice Department Web page as a database of "over 3,500,000 individuals, businesses, vessels and selected airfields."

PRIVACY ISSUES. A January, 2001 grand jury indictment charged Calatayud with wire fraud, tax evasion, bribery, and violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act in connection with the alleged data selling scheme. The federal case progressed as far as empanelling a jury, but on his February 5th, 2002 trial date the former agent disappeared.

After contemplating trying Calatayud in absentia, Judge William Keller instead dismissed the jury and issued a bench warrant for the missing defendant.

The former agent's flight ended on June 6th, when Mexican Federal Police arrested Calatayud in Guadalajara, and wasted no time in putting him on a plane to the U.S., according to the Los Angeles U.S. Attorney's office. "He was expelled by Mexico -- in other words, sent out of the county -- the same day," says spokesman Thom Mrozek. A federal judge later ordered Calatayud held without bail, and he was transported back to Los Angeles.

The former agent plead not guilty to all charges, including a new charge of failing to appear in court, on June 17th. His trial is now set for August 6th. Calatayud's attorney John Yzurdiaga -- who briefly represented hacker Kevin Mitnick in 1996 -- did not return phone calls.

If the indictment proves accurate, the Calatayud case highlights the risks posed by the increasingly large number of law enforcement databases that house information on individuals, and are widely accessible with minimal security, some privacy advocates say.

"When you have all this aggregation of data in these large databases, with literally hundreds of thousands of people with access to it at the same time, it creates a situation where data is vulnerable," says James Plummer, director of the libertarian National Consumer Coalition's Privacy Group, which named Calatayud its "Privacy Villain of the Week" when he went on the lam in February. "These federal agents aren't all saints. And the more information on citizens that's in there, the more likely that things like this are going to happen."

In an unrelated data-selling scandal last year, prosecutors charged Maria Emeterio, an officer with the Nevada Attorney General's Office, and Mary Ellen Weeks, an employee of the Las Vegas municipal court system, with selling over 100 NCIC records to a Las Vegas private investigator for $100 a piece. Both women and the private investigator, a former FBI agent, plead guilty in the case.

By Kevin Poulsen

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