Village Commissioner Terry Steinbach filed a lawsuit in federal court last week alleging that unnamed individuals had accessed her e-mails without authorization and forwarded them to Mayor Anthony Calderone.
The defendants in the lawsuit are named as John Does 1-3. Neither the village nor Calderone have, at this point, been named as defendants in the suit.
“We’ve filed a motion seeking a leave to conduct a discovery. We will be seeking the Internet Protocol (IP) addresses of those computers that accessed her e-mail account, and from that we hope to trace at least where they came from,” said Charles Lee Mudd Jr., Steinbach’s attorney in the case.
Village Administrator Michael Sturino said that he is also conducting his own investigation into the allegations. “I’m conducting an investigation under my authority set forth by the village code. To date I have uncovered no evidence to support the claims being made. I’d call on anyone with information to give a full disclosure immediately,” he said.
The lawsuit alleges that Steinbach noticed on July 7 that several e-mails had been sent to Calderone from her account by someone other than herself. She also allegedly found that several e-mails she had received from third parties had been forwarded to Calderone without her knowledge.
Calderone said he was “astonished by just the mere notion that someone would think something like this goes on.” He said he could not recall receiving an e-mail from Steinbach in months, including forwarded e-mails of correspondence with a third party.
Calderone said he would “absolutely be surprised” if the allegations proved to be true, but said that he would take the matter extremely seriously if they did.
Mudd said that, at this point, he has no reason to believe that Calderone was involved in any wrongdoing. “He could have merely known they were coming from what appeared to be Commissioner Steinbach,” he said.
Asked if he had been confronted about the e-mails by Steinbach prior to the lawsuit being filed, Calderone said that “[Steinbach] has hardly said a word to me in months. It’s hard to get her to even say hello to me.”
Steinbach and Calderone, in addition to being political rivals, are next door neighbors.
Commissioner Patrick Doolin, also a political adversary of Calderone’s, said he had not been told of the alleged incidents by Steinbach.
Though he said he was reserving judgment on the merits of the allegations until more facts emerged, he said that “I would have hoped she would have informed some people she felt might also be a target to be careful or cognizant that this could be happening.”
The suit also alleges that the people accessing Steinbach’s e-mails have, either verbally or in writing, passed along contents of e-mails they had intercepted to others. It accuses whoever was responsible of intending to “commit fraud?by representing themselves as Commissioner Steinbach” and of seeking to cause her harm “both personally and politically.”
Mudd declined to provide many specifics concerning the contents of the e-mails that were allegedly accessed improperly, but said that “They were not spam and not jokes. They were not insubstantial. Many of them pertained to village issues,”
“I don’t want to go into exact details because there are the privacy interests of the people who wrote to the commissioner as well, and I don’t want to allude to who they might be,” he said.
He did not give a timeframe or an estimate of the number of the e-mails, citing privacy concerns as well as concerns that by giving too much information he might assist whoever is responsible in disposing of evidence. None of the e-mails that were allegedly forwarded from Steinbach’s account were included with the lawsuit.
When village officials access their e-mail account, according to Sturino, a disclaimer pops up warning them not to expect much in the way of privacy.
According to a printout of the disclaimer provided by Sturino, it reads in part “Any or all uses of this system and all files on this system may be intercepted, monitored, recorded, copied, audited, inspected and disclosed to authorized sites, the village of Forest Park, and law enforcement personnel. By using this system, the user consents to such interception, monitoring, recording, copying, auditing, inspection and disclosure at the discretion of the village of Forest Park.”
Adding further potential complications is the fact that, aside from several exceptions outlined in the state Freedom of Information Act, e-mail sent from governmental accounts is available as public record.
Mudd said he does not expect this factor to impact his client’s case.
“I think there’s a difference between filing a Freedom of Information request and going through official administrative channels as opposed to somebody in the back room gaining unauthorized access to an e-mail account and using the contents for their own personal agenda,” he said.
The lawsuit, filed August 4, accuses the unnamed offenders of violating the Federal Wiretap Act, the Illinois Eavesdropping Statute, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, and violations of intrusion upon seclusion and public disclosure of private facts.
It alleges Steinbach suffered damages including “anguish and suffering, harmed reputation, embarrassment, invasion of privacy, and loss of trust.” It asks that Steinbach be awarded both compensatory and punitive damages in an amount to be determined at trial, including the costs of her attorney’s fees.