Tuesday, August 08, 2006, 8/08/2006 11:18:00 AM

Alleged Computer Fraud and Abuse in Central Falls, Rhode Island

By Todd
In October of 2003, Charles Moreau was running for mayor of Central Falls, Rhode Island against the incumbent, Lee Matthews. As is usually the case in politics, government jobs flow from those in power and it appears that Central Falls was no exception to that rule. Mayor Matthews had a chief of police named Thomas Wilson. Candidate Moreau campaigned saying he would sack Wilson if elected - apparently even suggesting Chief Wilson routinely went home at 4 p.m. and lounged on his couch while people were being "beat up in the streets" of Central Falls.

The election took place on November 4, 2003 and Charles Moreau won the election by sixteen (16) votes. He apparently outlined a plan to "clean house" by firing existing City personnel and replacing them with "quality city residents." About six months after he was elected, Mayor Moreau apparently heard from a former Central Falls politician that the former incumbent, Lee Matthews, had run his mayoral campaign against Mayor Moreau out of the Central Falls Public Library. Mayor Moreau credited this report and commenced an investigative raid on the Central Falls library using detectives he ordered Police Chief Wilson to supply.

This investigative raid led to the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act claims. Apparently, the detectives and an IT professional scoured the e-mail accounts and city computer systems maintained at the library. One of the things they found were pages of text from city employees' e-mail accounts that touted Matthews as the best candidate for the election that had already been had - and won by Moreau.

Suffice it to say that a few heads rolled and a couple of people resigned and they ultimately banded together as plaintiffs and sued a federal court action with numerous claims - including Computer Fraud and Abuse Act claims. They claimed that Mayor Moreau and his lackeys "intentionally accessed a computer without authorization and obtained information from a protected computer by conduct involving an interstate communication." Mayor Moreau and the other defendants moved for summary judgment and argued that the plaintiffs hadn't sustained any loss and certainly not $5000 in loss per the statutory threshold. The only "damages" the plaintiffs could assert were "costs and expenses of litigation" and "loss of income."

The federal court in Rhode Island granted summary judgment on these CFAA claims. It did so noting that statutory loss required would include "any remedial costs of investigating the computer for damage, remedying the damage and any costs incurred because the computer cannot function while or until repairs are made." That said, the "loss" had to be related somehow to the computer and analyses or investigations of the computer's capacities and possible damage to the same. Litigation fees, opined the Court, cannot be counted toward the $5000 statutory threshold.

This is a fascinating fact pattern but a relatively straight-forward, and correct, judicial pronouncement regarding the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. The case is captioned as Wilson v. Moreau, et al., 2006 WL 2171563 (August 3, 2006 D.R.I.).

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