An IRS employee is facing criminal charges that he disclosed personal information on former and current agency employees and contractors from data he had stored on his home computer network.
Investigators found Carl Sheerer, an employee who handles ID badge computer systems for Internal Revenue Service offices in Delaware and parts of New Jersey and Pennsylvania, had files containing personal information on 20,085 IRS personnel, according to charging documents filed in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt, Maryland.
IRS spokesman Jose Vejarano declined to discuss the case Monday, including on whether any personal information was compromised.
But defense attorney Dan Wright said Mr. Sheerer had stored the data on his home computer and had no intent to share the data. He said the information came from work done years ago and that Mr. Sheerer forgot he had it until the investigation began.
"It was purely accidental," Mr. Wright said of his client's situation. "He was not trying to make the information available."
The case comes at a time when the IRS is under scrutiny for embarrassing lapses involving lost laptops, erased hard drives and employees failing to take proper care of private information.
Mr. Sheerer's case came to authorities' attention after a tip from an Internet security firm.
Mr. Wright said the case should have been handled administratively.
"They're trying to make a criminal case out of it, it's over the top," he said.
The U.S. attorney's office did not respond to a phone message, but charging documents did not detail any specific plans by Mr. Sheerer to sell or share the information, or to make money from it. However, he still faces a misdemeanor charge that he "did knowingly and unlawfully publish, divulge, disclose and make known" personal information about individuals he received at work.
Federal prosecutors have broad discretion on whether to file charges in such cases.
The Justice Department declined to prosecute a Bureau of the Fiscal Service information technology specialist who was caught attempting to send "sensitive but unclassified network configuration data" to his personal gmail account, according to documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.
And last year investigators declined to notify the prosecutors in the case of a Treasury Department contractor who had emailed files containing personally identifiable information to her personal email account.
In another case, however, authorities filed criminal charges against a former Federal Reserve Bank contract employee, Bo Zhang, in 2011 after investigators learned that he downloaded government source code valued at $9.5 million to an external hard drive.
Zhang, who was born in China and is not a U.S. citizen, pleaded guilty theft of government property and was sentenced to three years probation.
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