- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 4, 2014

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - A former Minnesota Department of Natural Resources officer accused of looking up the private driver’s license data on thousands of people entered pleas Tuesday under an agreement.

John Hunt, 49, of Woodbury, entered an Alford plea in Ramsey County District Court to misconduct of a public officer, unauthorized computer access and unlawful use of private data. Hunt’s plea means he maintains his innocence but concedes there is likely enough evidence to find him guilty.

Hunt was charged with eight counts, all misdemeanors and gross misdemeanors. In plea agreements, the remaining charges typically are dismissed at sentencing. The plea agreement won’t be final until Hunt is sentenced March 24, the St. Paul Pioneer Press (http://bit.ly/1gKg0S0) reported.

Hunt, a former manager in the DNR’s enforcement division, was charged with making about 19,000 unauthorized searches into driver’s license data over five years. Prosecutors said most of the people he looked up were women, ranging from police officers to local celebrities to politicians.

Prosecutors said that was far more than his job, which included performing background checks using the data, required. The data Hunt had access to included photos, addresses and physical information about drivers.

The state of Minnesota once faced a series of lawsuits by people who say their driver’s license data were improperly accessed by Hunt, but a federal judge in September granted a motion by Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson’s office to dismiss the cases. The dismissal spared the state from exposure to millions of dollars in potential damages.

In court Tuesday, prosecutor Cary Schmies said the plea agreement stated that Hunt used the database more than 2,600 times, and “did so not for any authorized purpose” nor in his capacity as a DNR employee.

The agency fired Hunt in January 2013. He was charged in February of that year.

Hunt’s attorney, Fred Bruno, and Schmies declined to discuss specifics of the agreement as they left the courtroom Tuesday.

Schmies, usually the city attorney for Duluth, is prosecuting the case because St. Paul City Attorney Sarah Grewing is among the people whose private data Hunt is accused of accessing.

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Information from: St. Paul Pioneer Press, http://www.twincities.com

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