FBI, local agencies target cybercrime
by Penny Brown Roberts
Date: February 09, 2004
The FBI and local law enforcement agencies are teaming up to tackle what is quickly becoming a misdeed of choice in the Baton Rouge area -- cybercrimes.
Investigators from the bureau, the Baton Rouge and LSU police departments and the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Office met privately for the first time last week to set ground rules for what is being dubbed a "working group."
"We are seeing more of these types of crimes, and when we work with other agencies, the quality of work we produce is better," said Lee Huss, FBI supervisory senior resident agent. "To work these kinds of cases, we need to tell each other what we have and what we know."
The cybercrimes group will work a wide range of old-fashioned crimes that have taken on a high-tech twist -- intrusion, theft, fraud, pornography and copyright infringement.
Increasingly, Baton Rouge area law enforcement agencies and their counterparts nationwide are encountering computers and other gadgets as crime scenes.
In 2003, the Sheriff's Office handled 237 computer crimes with losses of nearly $2.8 million -- eight times what it was just five years ago. More than half the victims were area businesses, including banks.
Also last year, the Baton Rouge Police Department -- with its one-man, 3-year-old Computer Crimes Division -- investigated nearly 200 such complaints, including one case in which a woman bilked consumers nationwide of an estimated $2.5 million.
"We recognized a few years ago the need for a computer crimes investigative division because of the trend," said Lt. Mike Morris, chief of detectives for the Baton Rouge Police Department. "The drawback for us was having enough people to do the task. So the timing of this works well for us because we need some help investigating these cases."
The cybercrimes group will function as an informal task force, with each agency maintaining its independence but collaborating with the others to solve high-tech crimes and gather evidence for prosecution.
Many of the investigators working in the group have specialized training in computer forensics. One of the FBI agents, for example, is a Computer Analyst Response Team examiner who performs the laboratory examination and extracts data from computers and hard drives seized by FBI field agents and others.
Baton Rouge Police Lt. Robert Lively is one of five people in Louisiana certified in forensic computer analysis. The Sheriff's Office has a computer programmer and technician also trained in working felony investigations.
And LSU has a staffed computer forensic laboratory as well as several police officers with advanced training and certification in computer forensics.
The agencies also plan to pool specialized software and equipment they've acquired to battle cybercrimes, such as a portable forensic computer the Sheriff's Office now has to hunt business system hackers.
"This is a very specialized area of law enforcement," said Maj. Ricky Adams of the LSU Police Department. "Computer crimes are becoming as commonplace as other crimes. We have to rise to the challenge not only to detect crime, but to present a quality case to the prosecutors."
Indeed, last year was the busiest one to date for south Louisiana cybercriminals, investigators say. Among the more high-profile cases:
T Last fall, the police department received more than 50 complaints about Career Training Solutions, 2351 Energy Drive. Its 27-year-old owner, Chrisheena Shante McGee, 11101 Reiger Road, charged hundreds of dollars in tuition for online training and materials her would-be students claim she never provided.
In November, local, state and federal investigators seized 20 computers and $12,500 in illegally copied software. The case is still under investigation, but authorities estimate more than 3,000 clients nationwide may have lost more than $2.5 million.
T In July, LSU police officers said they discovered pornographic images of prepubescent girls on the office and home computers of Ronald Robert Brown, a science writer for University Relations.
A Baton Rouge federal grand jury has now charged Brown, 60, 33500 Beverly Drive, Denham Springs, with receiving and possessing child pornography, sexual exploitation and enticing for illegal sexual activity. Authorities are now investigating Brown's activities in Louisiana and three other states -- Illinois, Washington and Mississippi.
T And in February, Robert J. Jones Jr. of Denham Springs pleaded guilty to receiving pornography -- including pictures and videos of girls younger than 15 involved in sex acts with adults. Investigators also discovered the 13-year veteran of the LSU police force had wiretapped his wife's telephone conversations and stolen passwords to read other people's e-mail.
A federal judge departed from federal guidelines to lengthen Jones' prison sentence to nearly six years.
Said Major Bud Connor, chief of detectives for the Sheriff's Office: "This is clearly the fastest growing area of crime we're seeing. It's huge."
While there is no precise cost estimate for computer crimes nationwide, an FBI and Computer Security Institute study found the handful of corporations that responded lost $202 million to unauthorized computer usage. The Business Software Alliance estimates the packaged software industry has lost $8.3 billion to piracy. And identity theft now comprises nearly half of all complaints to the Federal Trade Commission.
In proposing his budget last week, President Bush gave the FBI an additional $55 million to combat high-tech crimes.
Law enforcement authorities say the nature of cybercrimes makes it necessary for local and federal agencies to work together.
The crimes begin at the local level, Huss explained, but often cross state and sometimes international borders -- making it impossible for city and parish investigators to pursue. While a Louisiana subpoena carries little authority in other states, for example, federal grand jury subpoenas can't be ignored. "That's what it's all about," said Lt. Col. Greg Pharis of the Sheriff's Office. "Getting all the agencies to genuinely work together on a daily basis."
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