Jury: Former DHS Watchdog Official Stole Software, Employees’ Personal Info

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The verdict is in for the last holdout in a scandalous scheme to defraud the government.

As officials within the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General, they were supposed to be alerting the public to nefarious activity, but a former acting branch chief of the department’s information technology division is guilty—along with two others—of stealing federal property and government workers’ personal information, a jury found.    

Murali Y. Venkata, 56, of Aldie, Virginia, who was, “convicted of conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government, theft of government property, wire fraud, aggravated identity theft, and obstruction,” according to a Department of Justice press release Monday, “executed a scheme to steal confidential and proprietary software from the government along with the personally identifying information (PII) of hundreds of thousands of federal employees.”

The plan, according to court documents and the indictment from March, 2020, was to create a commercial version of a case-management system to sell back to government agencies from a company Venkata’s accomplice and former boss Charles K Edwards founded in 2015. Edwards, who was DHS’ acting inspector general at the time, pleaded guilty to the charges in January. Another DHS OIG official—Sonal Patel—entered a guilty plea for related charges in April, 2019.

The three stole Microsoft products worth almost $350,000 by using activation keys managed by the DHS OIG office and the PII for about 246,167 DHS employees and 6,723 postal workers, according to the charges. 

Venkata worked for the U.S. Postal Service’s inspector general before moving to DHS. “He was convicted for his role in the conspiracy, which included exfiltrating proprietary source code and sensitive databases from DHS-OIG facilities, as well as assisting Edwards in setting up three computer servers in Edwards’s residence so that software developers in India could access the servers remotely and develop the commercial version of the case management system,” according to the DOJ.

The case was prosecuted by DOJ’s Senior Litigation Counsel Victor R. Salgado, Trial Attorney Celia Choy of the criminal division’s public integrity section, along with Assistant U.S. Attorney Christine M. Macey, and Assistant U.S. Attorney David B. Kent of the fraud, public corruption, and civil rights section of the U.S. Attorney’s office for the District of Columbia.