Tuesday, March 17, 2009

WASHINGTON (AP) - President Barack Obama’s new computer chief, already on leave after an FBI raid at his old job, turns out to have pleaded guilty to misdemeanor theft in 1996 when he was 21 years old, court records show.

It was the latest case of damaging information emerging publicly about one of Obama’s choices after he announced their appointment or nomination. A few have withdrawn, including former Sen. Thomas Daschle, nominee for health and human services secretary; Gov. Bill Richardson, commerce secretary nominee, and Nancy Killefer, appointed as the White House’s chief federal performance officer.

White House spokesman Nick Shapiro refused to say what Vivek Kundra, now 34, stole or whether the administration knew of Kundra’s guilty plea before announcing his appointment. “We have no comment,” Shapiro said Tuesday.

Kundra pleaded guilty in Maryland District Court in Rockville to theft of less than $300 on Aug. 27, 1996. Maryland court records show he was sentenced to supervised probation, 80 hours of community service within the following six months and fined $500, of which $400 was suspended. He had to pay $155, including court costs.

Almost a year later, his attorney Gary L. Segal applied for reconsideration and got the disposition changed to “probation before judgment,” which Segal said is technically not a conviction in Maryland.

“Probation before judgment is a disposition available in Maryland for minor offenses like misdemeanors. It means that if he were asked if he had ever been convicted of a crime, he could say `no,’” Segal said in an interview Tuesday.

Judges are often willing to make such a change in disposition once a defendant has complied with probation provisions, according to Segal, who said he had no memory or records of the case but had reviewed the court’s computer records of it.

It could not immediately be learned what Kundra stole. Gary Cranford, supervisor at the Maryland District Court records center in Annapolis, Md., said the paper case file, which would contain such details, was not in the box that was supposed to contain it. Neither Cranford nor court officials in Rockville were able to locate the file Tuesday.

Obama appointed Kundra on March 5 to the White House post of chief federal information officer, in charge of the government’s purchase of computers and other information technology. One week later, the FBI raided the District of Columbia government’s technology office, which Kundra had led until recently. Agents arrested a city employee and a technology consultant on corruption charges.

Kundra was put on leave from his White House post until further details of the case become known, a White House official said then. The official requested anonymity in discussing personnel matters.

Authorities said Yusuf Acar, the acting chief security officer under Kundra in the city’s technology office, and technology consultant Sushil Bansal of Dunn Loring, Va., and unnamed others defrauded the city. Court documents alleged Acar approved falsified bills for services that were never delivered to the city and split the money with vendors who submitted the phony bills, including Bansal.

Mafara Hobson, a spokeswoman for Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty, said she was confident Kundra is not a target of the investigation.

Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs would not say whether the White House knew the investigation was under way when it named Kundra.

Before becoming the city’s chief technology officer, Kundra had been an assistant secretary of commerce and technology in Virginia and president of a technology consulting company. He holds a master degree in information technology from the University of Maryland, and may have been a graduate student when arrested in 1996.

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