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A Spencer County man, known locally for his public critique of government officials and at times displaying that critique on a billboard he pulls around town behind his truck, was arrested twice within the last week — first on a charge of unlawfully accessing the county’s computer system and again on a charge of harassment.
Lawrence S. Trageser, 47, of the 100 block of Elmers Court, was arrested at his home Wednesday night and charged with second-degree unlawful access to a computer, which is a Class D felony. Trageser paid his own $5,000 bond and was released.
Trageser was arrested again Monday night and charged with harassment (no physical contact), which is a Class B misdemeanor. He again paid his own $1,500 bond and was released from custody.
The first arrest
According to an arrest warrant, which was executed along with a search warrant for Trageser’s home, Detective Sgt. Tony Mattingly, of the Spencer County Sheriff’s department, said that last Monday, Trageser “unlawfully: without the effective consent of the owner, knowing and willfully accessed the Spencer County government network which resulted in the loss of $300 or more. Affiant [Mattingly] states that the defendant posted on Spencercowatchdog.com that he had ‘infiltrated the counties computer network and successfully retrieved’ documents from the Spencer County Clerk, Lynn Hesselbrock’s office.”
According to the warrant, Mattingly said he spoke with Judge-Executive Bill Karrer, who determined “it would cost the county in excess of $300 to investigate the breach in security.”
A copy of the arrest warrant, as well as a uniform citation documenting Trageser’s arrest, was obtained by The Spencer Magnet from the Spencer County Circuit Court Clerk’s office.
Spencer County Sheriff Donald “Buddy” Stump confirmed Thursday morning that his office was investigating Trageser and had made the arrest last Wednesday.
Stump said the post on Spencercowatchdog.com was brought to the attention of the sheriff’s office and Mattingly, the department’s newest hire who will work full-time as a detective, was assigned to investigate the case.
Stump said he was not involved in the investigation and was not present at Trageser’s residence when the arrest and search warrants were executed.
“We are here to protect and serve,” Stump said. “If that’s the case, there is a lot of information in the system, and it’s our obligation to make sure [it hasn’t been compromised].”
Mattingly’s first phase of the investigation was presented to County Attorney Ruth Hollan, and based on review of the investigation, there was “enough probable cause” to issue and execute a search warrant and an arrest warrant, Stump said.
“I won’t comment further on the investigation because it is an ongoing investigation that could possibly bring forth more charges and other arrests depending on what the investigation reveals,” Stump said.
Trageser was released on a $5,000 cash bond late Wednesday night or early Thursday morning.
The second arrest
A second arrest warrant was executed Monday night.
Trageser faces a charge of harassment against Jonathan Bentley, who is employed as the chief deputy at the Spencer County Sheriff’s Department.
Deputy Todd Tinsley executed the warrant Monday.
According to the warrant, obtained from the Spencer County Sheriff’s Department, Bentley said Trageser “unlawfully engage[d] in a course of conduct which seriously annoys affiant and which serves no legitimate purpose.
“Affiant states that the defendant is the owner of a website Spencercowatchdog.com on which he has posted a citation containing the affiant’s social security number, driver’s license and date of birth.”
As of Tuesday afternoon, the citation was still up on the website, but those specific details had been removed.
The county documents in question
The Internet posting referenced in the first arrest warrant includes little text, but shows several scanned documents as well as email communications between Hesselbrock, the county clerk, and Taylorsville-Spencer County Fire Chief Nathan Nation.
The scanned documents on the post include a copy of two sheets, which appear to be signed copies of the certified tax rates from Hesselbrock’s office.
The Spencer Magnet reported last week that Spencer County tax bills will not be issued until Nov. 1 because of an error on the original certified rates.
Hesselbrock told the Magnet that she accidentally certified the fire district’s real property tax rate at 10 cents per $100 of assessed value, when the actual rate approved by the fire trustees was 5 cents per $100 of assessed value.
The post on Spencercowatchdog.com shows a copy of the first certified tax rates, including the error on the fire district’s rate, as well as the second and final certified tax rates with the correct rate for the fire district.
Also on the posting are copies of the fire district’s real property tax rate resolution and the personal property tax rate resolution, as well as emails between Nation and Hesselbrock where Nation inquired about the delay in sending out this year’s tax bills.
Thursday afternoon, Trageser granted the Magnet news staff an interview regarding his arrest and the charges brought against him.
Trageser maintains that he received all of the documents in quesion in a legal way by submitting open records requests to the fire district.
Friday, Nation provided the Magnet with a copy of those open records requests, as well as what was provided in response to those requests.
Nation also provided a copy of a memo sent Friday to the Spencer County Fire Protection District Board of Trustees, as well as the board attorney, James Hodge, to make sure they were abreast of the situation.
Nation’s memo reads: “I wanted to provide you an update from our Monday [Oct. 8] board meeting about the 2012 tax rates. The Spencer County Sheriff’s Office arrested Mr. Lawrence Trageser and charged him with unlawfully accessing the county computer system to get the 2012 tax rates from the county clerk’s office.
“Mr. Trageser filed two open records requests with the fire district requesting information about the 2012 tax rates. As required by the open records law, I provided the requested information.
“I was provided the 2012 tax rates from the Spencer County Sheriff’s Office. I have enclosed a copy of this information for your review.”
Trageser told The Spencer Magnet that he arrived home Wednesday evening after work to find the lock on the gate to his driveway broken, as well as a state trooper and several Spencer County Sheriff’s Department vehicles at his home.
Trageser was made aware of the search warrant and was told that a couple of deputies were inside his home.
“They busted down the front door,” Trageser said. Trageser confirmed that none of his family members was home at the time.
Trageser disputes that he is personally indicated in the Internet posting.
“The paragraph says, something to the effect, I believe, ‘Our crack IT team has infiltrated the county’s computer system,’” Trageser said. “There was no ‘I.’ There was no ‘my team.’ None of that. I think one also could look at the fact that if you read consistently, the atmosphere and mission statement of that website, there are theatrics in the form of sarcasm and humor. I believe a reasonable person would conclude that that statement was in fact theatrical and humorous.”
Trageser maintains that he obtained the documents in question in a legal fashion.
“At this point, all I can confirm to you, is that I am within the law, and I legally put forth an open records request to a taxing entity and they delivered those documents to me. Where those documents came from, respective to the fire district, I can’t confirm and I can’t speculate.”
Trageser said sheriff’s deputies took three computers, a video camera and discs, and at least four boxes full of letter-sized documents from his home, in addition to other items.
Trageser said he posted the $5,000 bond and has a court date on Nov. 2. The Spencer Magnet confirmed that Trageser is on the district court docket to be arraigned on Nov. 2 at 8:30 a.m.
“My plea is not guilty,” he said. Trageser said he is planning to seek legal counsel.
Trageser said he believes one sentence on a website and two documents are not enough to arrest him.
He also said that a “crack IT team” could mean many things, including someone who used a copy machine or a fax machine.
“And when you say infiltrate, does that mean you went in and hijacked stuff off the Internet?” he said. “Infiltrate carries another meaning, the possibility that you went in and got information without other people necessarily being aware of it, that didn’t want you to have it, but it doesn’t mean that it was illegal.”
Still, Trageser said he doesn’t take ownership for the website.
“My relationship [to the website] is one of providing material,” Trageser said.
He said “the Watchdog” is not a single person, but was multi-faceted.
“It’s beyond a group now,” he said. “It’s an organization of people in multiple careers, places, positions, with different ideologies and different aspects and specific points. One person may see one thing and tell us, but then another one carries it little bit further. So it’s not like one particular person has all the information. It’s all put together and packaged.”
As of press time, no court date had been scheduled on the harassment charge.