Hillsboro's cybercrime unit breaks up
BY RYAN FRANK
Date: November 03, 2003
The police sleuths move on as funding dries up and the FBI plans its own high-tech crime lab in Portland
HILLSBORO -- The pioneering high-tech team at the Hillsboro Police Department will continue to morph in the coming months as it assists in building an FBI computer forensics lab in Portland.
The city in the heart of the Silicon Forest launched its team of specially trained computer sleuths in 1995 to investigate corporate crooks, felonious fraudsters and hackers from Hillsboro to China.
The team, one of Oregon's first, started with a grant from chip giant Intel and later added investigators from the Beaverton Police Department and the FBI.
But the three-person team based in Tanasbourne dissolved in the past year as Intel halted its annual contributions and the FBI turned its attention to its own cybercrime campaigns.
Federal officials announced earlier this month that the FBI would open a computer forensics lab in Portland that will further redirect Hillsboro's high-tech resources, said Hillsboro Police Chief Ron Louie.
Lt. Jim Kelly of the Hillsboro Police Department said he plans to contribute two employees to the federal lab and turn his agency's high-tech attention to training street cops on how to collect computer clues.
Hillsboro police also have dedicated one detective to investigate child pornography with the FBI and will help detectives from the neighboring cities of Forest Grove, Banks and Cornelius with computer exams.
Team logs 93 arrests The Hillsboro Police Department started its high-tech team in 1995 with a $100,000 grant from Intel.
The team has arrested 93 people while investigating 278 cases and recovered $208.1 million, according to Hillsboro police statistics.
The team -- which by 1997 had grown to include a full-time staff of two FBI special agents, an FBI paralegal and three Hillsboro police detectives -- investigated a handful of headline-grabbing cases, including: A former Federal Express manager who stole $2 million worth of Intel-produced Pentium chips in 1996. He pleaded guilty in 1998. An 18-year-old Gresham man who was accused of using a school computer and the Internet in 2000 to hack into three dozen computers at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. A 44-year-old Hillsboro man who police say illegally obtained drivers' license records for nearly 3 million Oregonians.
The FBI pulled its agents off the Hillsboro team last fall as part of a reorganization, said David Vanzant, a supervisory special agent in charge of the FBI's cybercrimes squad.
And Intel stopped donating cash in 2002 after having given $340,000 in the previous seven years. Spokesman Bill MacKenzie said the company never intended to fund the team each year. Rather, the donations were meant as seed money.
The two Hillsboro detectives and one Beaverton detective who were on the team when it dissolved will continue to focus primarily on high-tech crimes, working through their own departments.
About 30 volunteers, mostly computer experts, also help with computer forensics work, said George Heuston, a Hillsboro police project manager.
"We still have the same resource base there," said Cmdr. Andy Schroder of the Hillsboro police. "We organized it a little differently."
Although Intel no longer donates cash, the chip-maker and Lattice Semiconductor of Hillsboro will continue to help with training and donated or loaned equipment, Kelly said.
Eric Morse, Lattice's corporate security manager, said Hillsboro's investigators respond quickly and are "very understanding of the corporate culture."
New FBI lab in town More changes could be in store for the high-tech investigators when the FBI regional lab opens in spring.
The lab, which eventually will be one of 10 nationwide, will have 10 to 15 employees who will examine computers for digital evidence in a crime, Vanzant said.
It will also serve as a training center for federal, state and local police in Oregon.
"We worked really hard on behalf of the FBI to get it going," Schroder said.
The team will include members of police departments in Hillsboro, Beaverton, Gresham and Portland^; sheriff's offices in Multnomah and Washington counties^; and the Oregon State Police, Vanzant said.
Forensics experts at the FBI lab will likely examine computers for serious cases, such as kidnapping and homicide.
Hillsboro will still have one or two forensics examiners for more routine cases, such as identity thieves, Kelly said.
The lab will give prosecutors consistent results from computer examiners who receive the same training and certification, Vanzant said.
The federal government will pay for the examiners' training and equipment, which can run $30,000 in the first year. An examiner needs eight months to a year to be certified, Vanzant said.
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