Drew Johnson, the former Paragon Benefits Inc. employee accused of sending personal information of more than 5,200 TSYS employees to his personal email account, was ordered held in the Muscogee County Jail after a detention hearing today in U.S. District Court.
Judge Stephen Hyles announced his decision after U.S. Assistant Attorney Melvin E. Hyde Jr. said Johnson is an economic risk to the community. Johnson, 26, was arrested at his Columbus home on Oct. 11 and charged with felony identity theft.
Johnson’s attorney, public defender Jose E. Guzman, argued for his client’s release on conditions that he wouldn’t have access to a computer and probation officials could monitor him. A 2005 graduate of Columbus High, Johnson attended Morehouse College in Atlanta and had experience in filing taxes before taking the job at Paragon Benefits, his attorney said.
During the 90-minute hearing, Hyde told the court that more lists of names with Social Security numbers and other personal information were seized during a 10 a.m. Thursday search executed at a 5062 Aaron Lane home off of St. Marys Road. Tax returns for 2012 had been filed on many of the names, but the Internal Revenue Service rejected the claims, an official said.
David Tucker, a special agent for the IRS, said items found at the home had names of people living in Pennsylvania and Kentucky. Tax returns were filed in their names by a business in Phenix City.
The IRS couldn’t determine who filed the returns that were rejected by the IRS because tax returns already had been filed. “We don’t know who filed them at this time,” Tucker said.
To show that Johnson would be a flight risk, Hyde played two recorded telephone calls the suspect made from the county jail . In a conversation with his girlfriend, Johnson said he was leaving Columbus and traveling to Texas or New York if released on bond.
Johnson also asked about getting a computer back and a USB drive that was located in a game system at his home. Hyde said the 5,200 names with personal information on TSYS employees still hasn’t been found and questioned what purpose the information would be used.
“There’s no telling what type of economic damage would be done,” Hyde said, if Johnson were released.
Johnson waived his hearing on the charge, but Christian Coulter, a special agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, said Paragon Benefits already has experienced about $250,000 in losses to hire a forensic analyst and to provide credit protection for employees with compromised personal information.
After starting work at Paragon Benefits on Sept. 3, Johnson was seen spending more time at his computer than required for a new employee. Paragon administers the benefits for TSYS in Columbus and Kelley Manufacturing Co. in Tifton, Ga.
Two days after starting work, Johnson is accused of sending two emails from his Paragon email to his personal Google Gmail account, the same one listed on his job application. One file contained information on more than 5,200 TSYS employees and a second with 280 Kelley Manufacturing workers.
The files contained the personal identifying information of employees names, dates of birth, Social Security numbers, home addresses and insurance plan details, the agent said.
During an interview with Johnson after his arrest, Coulter said he accessed the files on his computer as a draft for later. “He said he had no malicious intent in accessing the information,” the agent said.
Hyde said the charge would be presented to a grand jury in November.