After an assistant superintendent’s eMail messages were hijacked, printed out, and then faxed and mailed to certain members of her school board–apparently in an attempt to discredit her–the technology supervisor in West Chester, Pa., was suspended with pay in early August, and a criminal investigation is pending.

Investigators are also looking into whether or not the three board members who received the intercepted eMail had any knowledge of the purloined messages.

eMail messages sent to the account of Nan Wodarz, an assistant superintendent in the 12,000-student West Chester Area School District, were obtained by someone at the district and passed along to board members.

According to the attorney who investigated the first incident for the school board, a school computer had been programmed to intercept eMail sent to Wodarz in May and June.

The eMail then was passed on to three board members. The board members said they received hard copies of Wodarz’s eMail via fax and by anonymous deliveries to their home addresses.

At least 31 messages were intercepted, according to an investigation report obtained by the Philadelphia Inquirer.

In addition, a former board member, Fred Nell, is alleging that his eMail, too, might have been stolen. Nell has retained a lawyer and threatened legal action for invasion of privacy.

According to the West Chester Daily Local News, Supervisor of Technology Martin Freidman is circumstantially linked to the eMail theft, but investigators have not yet tied him to the crime. Freidman has adamantly denied intercepting the messages.

Chester County District Attorney Anthony Sarcione told eSchool News his office is looking into the matter. Sarcione said the district attorney’s office won’t release any details under further investigation. School Board President Steven Handzel said school officials have been asked by Sarcione’s office not to discuss the case.

But a source close to the investigation says Sarcione’s office will be looking at whether certain privacy laws were violated. Intercepting another user’s eMail–communications that are intended to be private–might violate Pennsylvania’s wire tap act, this source said.

Internal investigation

The school launched its own investigation of the matter this summer. West Chester Supt. Janet Shaner hired attorney Jerome A. Hoffman after one of the board members brought the eMail to her attention.

Hoffman’s report concluded that eMail messages were delivered to board members James Davison, Pamela Gallimore, and Judith McLaughlin in an attempt to “portray Wodarz in an unfavorable light.” The eMail reportedly covered a wide range of topics. Some contained information about work Wodarz had allegedly done for other employers. Other messages were of a personal nature that, according to the report, “could be misconstrued by the reader.”

Board member Davison said he received all of the documents, dated between May 5 and June 16, via anonymous delivery to his home or by fax over several weeks. The faxes were sent from a yet-to-be-identified telephone fax line.

Davison kept the documents for about six weeks before turning them over to Supt. Shaner on June 18, according to the report. Shaner began an internal investigation shortly thereafter.

In the school attorney’s report, Hoffman named Freidman as being the person most likely to have committed the act. The supervisor of technology would have the sophisticated know-how to pull off the electronic thefts and, according to Hoffman’s report, the motivation for wanting to discredit Wodarz.

The board members who received Wodarz’s correspondence might also have violated the law, said Hoffman’s report, if they knew the eMail had been intercepted illegally.

The board members’ lawyer denied the trio had prior knowledge. “They did what they were supposed to do as responsible school board members,” said attorney Joel Frank, who represents McLaughlin, Gallimore, and Davison.

Some details about the incident still weren’t clear at press time. Investigators weren’t releasing information about the exact nature of the eMail messages or why Freidman or another person might have wanted to put Wodarz in a bad light.

What is clear: In Pennsylvania, as in other states, it is illegal to record other’s transmissions over phone lines. It doesn’t matter whether those transmissions are voice or data, according to Mark Grossman, an attorney specializing in computer and internet law with the Miami-based firm of Becker & Poliakoff.

Philadelphia Inquirer