A man who worked as an Olympia, Wash., School District computer technician is accused of blackmailing a teacher who was using district computers in an alleged extramarital affair with a colleague.
Jeffrey P. Gabrielse, who is in his 20s, has been charged with second-degree extortion and released on $2,500 bond.
In late October, according to school district officials and prosecutors in Thurston County, Wash., Gabrielse sent eMail messages to a teacher at Jefferson Middle School, demanding $10,000 to keep secret the man’s alleged affair with a woman teaching at Boston Harbor Elementary School.
At the time, Gabrielse was servicing the district’s computer network, said Rick Wilson, district personnel director.
“He found a file that two employees of the district were using to communicate with each other,” Wilson said. “What he found was, frankly, information of an adult nature.”
The male teacher’s eMail file required a password, which he reportedly had given to the female teacher, Wilson said. No other teachers or students could read the file.
“I’m not technically savvy enough to know how he [Gabrielse] got that password, but he did,” Wilson said.
The first extortion attempt was made Oct. 27, 1999, according to documents filed Jan. 19 in Thurston County Superior Court.
“Yes, this is what the legal system defines as blackmail,” the eMail message reportedly said. “Pure and simple.”
The message went on to advise the male teacher, who was married, that the news media and the district would be told of the affair if he contacted police or the female teacher. A second eMail message, also sent Oct. 27, provided instructions for delivery of the money Nov. 11.
The teacher called Olympia police the next day.
Police obtained a subpoena for Yahoo!, the internet company used to send the allegedly extorting eMail messages and determined the messages had been sent from inside the school district, according to court documents.
A school district computer technician concluded Gabrielse was the only person logged on and sending eMail through Yahoo! when the first extortion eMail message was sent, the document stated.
On Nov. 11, the teacher received two additional eMail messages telling him to place $10,000 in a mailbox.
The teacher placed a package in the mailbox, and police arrested Gabrielse nearby. He eventually confessed to sending the eMail messages, prosecutors said.
The charge carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. If Gabrielse is convicted, he would face a standard-range penalty of from one to three months in jail because he has no criminal history, said spokesman Ed Michelson in the prosecutors’ office.
Gabrielse subsequently resigned, Wilson said.
Both teachers were suspended for five days without pay, and the male teacher is on leave, he said.
“It was a situation that we felt violated our agreement that employees sign to use the (computer) system for appropriate educational services,” Wilson said.
The two teachers will be investigated further by the office of the state schools superintendent.