- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 25, 2007

A federal judge has allowed a former Democratic researcher to withdraw her guilty plea to charges of illegally digging into former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele’s credit history.

Lauren Weiner last year pleaded guilty to computer fraud for illegally obtaining the credit history of Mr. Steele, a Republican, during his unsuccessful bid for a U.S. Senate seat. Her sentencing had been scheduled for today in federal court in the District.

Miss Weiner, who has since enrolled in Columbia University’s journalism school, resigned from her job as a researcher for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee after illegally accessing the data.

“Over the past 12 months, Ms. Weiner has abided by all of the conditions set by the court and by the deferred plea agreement, including performing 150 hours of community service,” defense attorney Whitney C. Ellerman wrote in a court memo last week.

In a previous court filing, Mr. Ellerman successfully sought a magistrate judge’s permission for Miss Weiner to leave the jurisdiction to attend graduate journalism classes at Columbia University.

“This is one of the steps she wishes to take in order to move on with her life following the events that lead to her plea,” Mr. Ellerman wrote.

According to charging documents, Miss Weiner impersonated Mr. Steele over the Internet to gain access to his financial history. She also created a phony e-mail address, “[email protected] yahoo.com,” using Mr. Steele’s name and address as the creator.

At one point, the Web site for the TransUnion credit history company prompted a screen under the heading: “We need to ensure you are really Michael Steele.”

Under a plea deal, Miss Weiner avoided jail time on the misdemeanor charge and the U.S. attorney’s office agreed not to prosecute the case if she performed 150 hours of community service.

Last week, U.S. Magistrate Judge John M. Facciola granted a motion by Miss Weiner’s attorney — unopposed by prosecutors — to withdraw her guilty plea on the basis that she perform the community service.

Prosecutors have said they would not oppose dismissing criminal charges if Miss Weiner successfully completes her probation.

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