Saratoga Springs man pleads guilty to hacking United Airlines website

Saratoga Springs Mans Pleads Guilty to Hacking United Airlines WebsiteIn early May, a Saratoga Springs man was charged with hacking into the United Airlines website and stealing travel vouchers that he then sold to other people.  Ammon Cunningham was charged in 3rd District Court with various computer crimes, theft, communications fraud, and engaging in a pattern of unlawful activity, all second-degree felonies.

Cunningham Hacked United Airlines Website to Obtain Travel Vouchers

According to the charging documents, from approximately July 2012 through September 2012, Cunningham (who went by the alias Jacob Colvin) “unlawfully accessed (hacked) the United Airlines website and obtained Personal Identification (PIN) codes for Electronic Travel Certificates that had been assigned to United customers but had not yet been redeemed by those customers.”

Cunningham Used Vouchers for Himself or Sold Them to Others at Below Market Value

Prosecutors said that, once Cunningham obtained the travel vouchers, “He either used the ETCs for personal travel, or he sold them through various classified ad sites, including Craigslist and”  Cunningham was alleged to have used 13 certificates for himself, valued at more than $7,800.  Prosecutors also alleged that Cunningham sold some 120 vouchers to others, which were valued at more than $58,000.  Prosecutors said Cunningham sold the vouchers at discounted prices, and that one couple purchased two vouchers valued at approximately $2,400 for less than $2,000, and booked a roundtrip vacation from New Jersey to Munich with the vouchers.

Cunningham Contacted United Airlines About “Massive Hole” He Found in Website Using Alias

Interestingly, in September 2012, prosecutors said that Cunningham contacted United Airlines through email using an alias, explaining to United that he had “found a massive hole in the website.”  Cunningham told United that he was willing to disclose to them this alleged “massive hole” he had found, but only if United would pay him $10,000 and supply him with first-class airfare to any place in the world for himself, his wife and, his child, the charges set forth.

Cunningham Pleads Guilty, Charge May be Reduced

Now, more than three months after he was charged, Cunningham has pleaded guilty to one count of engaging in a pattern of unlawful activity as part of a plea bargain.  As part of the plea deal, the other second-degree felonies of computer crimes, theft, and communications fraud were dismissed.  Additionally, prosecutors have agreed to hold Cunningham’s plea in abeyance, meaning that any potential prison sentence will be stayed and the charge could be reduced to a Class A misdemeanor in one year if Cunningham is able to complete 80 hours of community service, he pays restitution, and commits no additional crimes.

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Copyright 2016

Shurtleff’s “fixer” gets a trial date

fixer-logoAfter waiving his right to a preliminary hearing, Timothy Lawson, dubbed as former Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff’s “fixer,” will stand trial in April 2017 on six felony charges in Salt Lake City’s Third District Court.  Johnson stands accused of tax evasion, witness tampering, obstruction of justice, and engaging in a pattern of unlawful activity in connection with allegations of bribery and misconduct inside the attorney general’s office by Shurtleff and his successor, John Swallow.

Lawson Charged in December 2013

Lawson was originally charged in December 2013 following a months-long investigation into the alleged misconduct of Swallow and Shurtleff.  Charging documents set forth that Lawson attempted to intimidate several victims of Marc Sessions Jenson, a businessman that was acquitted of defrauding investors as part of the $3.5 billion Mount Holly ski and golf resort planned near Beaver, Utah.  Lawson has also been accused of threatening Utah businessman Darl McBride.  McBride has said that Lawson threatened to have him beat up if he did not take down a website that painted Mark Robbins, a business associate of Marc Sessions Jenson.  Shurtleff himself purportedly later met with McBride and offered to pay McBride $2 million if McBride would agree to take the sight down.

Lawson’s Close Relationship With Shurtleff and Swallow

The charging documents against Lawson also revealed the close relationship between Lawson, Shurtleff, and Swallow.  According to prosecutors, Lawson, Shurtleff, and Swallow visited Jenson at his Southern California villa in 2009.  Swallow and Lawson also allegedly engaged in more than 680 text messages and phone calls between the two from April 2009 and March 2013, conversing about everything from holiday plans to Swallow’s 2012 election to the FBI’s investigation into Swallow.

Lawson was a Prolific Campaign Fundraiser for Shurtleff

Prosecutors say the evidence against Lawson shows that he was a prodigious campaign fundraiser for Shurtleff, and emails from 2007 and 2008 show that Lawson and Shurtleff discussed fundraisers and meetings where Shurtleff would receive significant campaign contributions.  Lawson also allegedly connected Shurtleff to several large donors, including Pre-Paid Legal Services, Mentoring of America, and St. George businessman Jeremy Johnson, who, along with his associates, gave some $200,000 to Shurtleff’s various campaigns.

AG Personnel Questioned Shurtleff and Swallow’s Involvement with Lawson

Shurtleff and Swallow’s involvement with Lawson, which has been alleged to go far beyond campaign fundraising, raised eyebrows at the Attorney General’s office, including from Swallow’s co-deputy, Kirk Torgensen.  According to Torgensen, he wrote to Swallow asking, “Why are we dealing with this guy [Lawson]?  We cannot ethically deal with this guy outside of Jenson’s counsel.  This is inappropriate for Lawson to be doing this.”  However, it appears from the charging documents that Swallow did not heed Torgensen’s advice as it related to Lawson.

UPUAA Charge Against Lawson Forewarned of Charges Against Shurtleff and Swallow

The charges against Lawson were the result of months of hard work by Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill, Davis County District Attorney Troy Rawlings, and investigators from the FBI and the Utah Department of Public Safety.  At the time of Lawson’s arrest, Troy Rawlings said, “The very nature of the [racketeering] charge means Mr. Lawson wasn’t acting alone or in a vacuum.  However, nobody else has been charged to date and all inferences beyond that point would be unfair to comment on.”  While Rawlings would not make any further comment about Lawson’s alleged accomplices, we know now that both Shurtleff and Swallow were subsequently charged with similar crimes, including engaging in a pattern of unlawful activity.  Shurtleff’s case was recently dismissed, while the case against Swallow marches on.

Lawson Waives Preliminary Hearing

In April, Lawson appeared in Third District Court for what was supposed to be a three-day preliminary hearing.  However, at the outset of the hearing, Lawson waived his right to a preliminary hearing, instead opting to go to trial.  The court thereafter set an arraignment for June 20th.  Lawson pleaded guilty to all of the charges against him at the June 20th hearing.  A status hearing was set for August 15th to discuss further issues in the case.

Lawson’s Trial Set for April 2017

As noted, at the August 15th hearing, the court set a trial date for Lawson’s case in April 2017.  The trial is scheduled for six-day period, beginning April 13, 2017.  Both Shurtleff and Swallow may be called as witnesses in Lawson’s trial.

Preliminary Hearing Set in Social Security Case Against Lawson

Also on August 15th, the court set a November 23rd date for a preliminary hearing in a Social Security fraud case against Lawson that was filed earlier in 2016.  In that case, prosecutors have charged Lawson with communications fraud, theft, and making false or inconsistent statements for allegedly lying to the Social Security Administration.  Prosecutors say that between April 2012 and September 2013, Lawson twice told administrative judges from the Social Security Office of Disability Adjudication and Review that he had been unemployed or worked fewer than five hours a week.  The claims resulted in a January 2014 award of $86,810 to him and his family, court papers say.  Prosecutors contend that state workforce services records show that in 2009 and 2010, Lawson reported owning a share in a Marshall Islands-based hovercraft business and operated a gluten-free bakery.

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Copyright 2016

Ex-Utah Valley Chamber of Commerce officer manager pleads guilty to fraud and other charges


bank-finance-sold-through-fake-documentsIn early 2015, fifteen felonies were  charged against former Utah Valley Chamber of Commerce office manager Jeanie Kay Johnson, who stood accused of embezzling more than $200,000.  Johnson was charged with one count of engaging in a pattern of unlawful activity, one count of theft, 12 counts of communications fraud, and one count of obstructing justice, all second degree felonies with the exception of the obstruction of justice charge, which is a third-degree felony.

Johnson Falsified Financial Information to Hide Missing Money

According to prosecutors, Johnson was hired by as an office manager, receptionist, and finance manager by the Utah Valley Chamber of Commerce in 2005.  Prosecutors said that Johnson thereafter embezzled more than $200,000 from the Chamber between February 2011 and December 2013 and “was able to hide the missing money for years by providing false financial information in the monthly financial reports for the Board of Directors.”

When Discrepancies Were Revealed, Johnson Deleted Financial Information to Hide Her Fraud

State prosecutors further alleged that, when any discrepancies were discovered in the Chamber’s financial reports, Johnson went into the Chamber’s computer system on December 10, 2013 and “deleted the financial information in an effort to hide her actions.”  Prosecutors said Johnson illegally obtained the large sum of money through fraudulent reimbursements, unauthorized checks, and false vacation payouts.

Johnson Fired Following Internal Investigation

The Utah Valley Chamber of Commerce fired Johnson in 2014 after an internal investigation purportedly revealed discrepancies in the Chamber’s financial records.  In a written statement, the Chamber said:

During the past year, much has been done to update the Chamber’s financial processes. With the additional help of outside experts, the Chamber implemented many new controls and processes to secure the Chamber’s financial accounts, information, communications and records.  The Chamber is confident its financial situation is sound and secure with the new controls in place to ensure the proper care and handling of funds contributed by its members and sponsors.  While this situation is unfortunate, the Chamber believes it is now stronger and better positioned to succeed as a result.

Johnson Pleads Guilty to Three Felonies

Now, more than 18 months after she was charged, Johnson has pleaded guilty.  As part of her guilty plea, Johnson agreed to plead guilty to one count of communications fraud, one count of theft, and one count of obstruction of justice.  The remaining 11 counts for communications fraud, as well as the charge for engaging in a pattern of unlawful activity, were dismissed as part of Johnson’s plea deal.

Johnson’s Charges May be Reduced

Furthermore, the court has said Johnson’s charges may be reduced at sentencing on September 20th if Johnson makes a $15,000 restitution payment before sentencing.  Johnson’s charges may further be reduced in three years’ time if she complies with all of the terms of her probation.

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Copyright 2016