New Tripoli resident charged with computer crime

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A former Northwestern Lehigh School District employee has been charged with felony computer crimes for allegedly accessing grade, email and human resources computer systems by using the log on and password information of the superintendent and other employees for more than a 1 ½-year period while she worked for the district and after she left.

State police allege that Catherine Venusto, 45, of New Tripoli,illegally accessed the districts Gradebook system and changed grades for her daughter and son.

On July 18, Venusto was charged with three counts each of unlawful use of computer and computer trespass, which are third-degree felonies. She was to be arraigned July 18in Lehigh County Central Booking.

An affidavit of probable caused filed by Trooper Gregg Dietz of Pennsylvania State Police Troop M, Fogelsville, alleges that the criminal conduct occurred from June 16, 2010, to Feb. 17,2012.

The affidavit of probable cause alleges:

A state police investigation began on Feb. 24, 2012, after Assistant Superintendent Jennifer Holman reported that a former employee allegedly had accessed the district's computer system using Superintendent Mary Anne Wright's log on and password information without Wright'sknowledge or permission. The district earlier suspected something was amiss when the high school principal in January 2012 relayed teachers' concerns about why Wright would beaccessing the Gradebook system and looking at their grades. Wright said she had no reason toaccess the system and had not done so.

State police determined that Venusto was an employee of the district from March 2005 toApril 2011 and most recently had been a part-time secretary in the Administration Building. Venusto was responsible for initiating the sign on and password information for Wright.

After leaving the district, Venusto was employed at the East Penn School District. She leftthat job in March 2012 and also had worked at QVC.

The sign on and password information for district employees had not been changed until Feb. 27, 2012, 10 months after Venusto stopped working for the district in April 2011.

On June 16, 2010, Venusto, using a non-district IP, or Internet-provider address, entered the Gradebook system using Wright's information and changed her daughter's grade from an F to an M for 'medical.'

On Feb. 3, 2012, Venusto again used Wright's information and entered the district's gradesystem from a non-district IP address and changed her son's grade from a 98 percent to a 99 percent.

From Aug. 23, 2010, to February 2012, Venusto used non-district computers and Wright'sinformation to access the district's H drive, or human resources, system, which is limited to human resources personnel. Venusto accessed thousands of files associated with district policy,contract information, employee reports and personnel issues.

Using non-district computers, Venusto also entered the district's email system by using Wright's information and also the information of nine other district employees, most of whom were employed in the Guidance Department.

The investigation, which involved obtaining court orders for Internet-provider information,determined that Venusto used three different Internet-provider addresses – one address of PenTeleData, which was Venusto's home Internet provider; one associated with the Carbon-Lehigh Intermediate Unit No. 21, specifically the East Penn School District; and a third address associated with QVC.

Information obtained by state police showed that Venusto accessed the district's gradingsystem 110 times using Wright's log in and password.

A spread sheet was prepared that showed an access trail with log on information of Wright,the IP address used, the content of data that was observed, copied or downloaded, and the logoff. The access trails showed that Venusto accessed district computerinformation thousands oftimes.

As in every criminal case, the fact that an arrest has occurred or a complaint has been filed is merely an accusation; and the defendant, Catherine Venusto, is presumedinnocent until and unless proven guilty.

Provided by the Office of the District Attorney Lehigh County Courthouse.

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