Attorney: Client illegally looked at Obama’s student loan records because he was bored at work

Friday, June 25, 2010

Lawyer: Client who viewed Obama records was bored

DES MOINES, Iowa — A defense attorney for a man who pleaded guilty Friday to illegally looking at President Barack Obama’s student loan records said his client only found the records because he and others were bored at work.

John Phommivong, 30, and eight others former employees of Vangent Inc. were indicted last month on federal charges of illegally accessing the student loan records of Obama when he was a candidate for president, president-elect or president. The nine worked at the Coralville branch of the company, a U.S. Department of Education contractor.

Phommivong’s attorney, David Treimer, said his client and the others looked up student loan records during down time at work.

“There were instances where they didn’t have work but were still required to be at their stations to receive calls,” said Treimer, of Davenport. “It’s like a person who has access to the Internet at work and isn’t supposed to surf but they do.

“There was never any malicious intent whatsoever,” Treimer said.

He said his client also looked up student loan records of celebrities, including Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt.

“They technically had access to the database, that was their job,” Treimer said. “But their access was only when an inquiry came in and for the person the inquiry was on.”

Treimer said employees had to sign agreements that they would not do searches for people when there wasn’t an inquiry for that person.

Sentencing was set for Sept. 24. Phommivong, whose hometown is not listed in court records, faces up to one year in prison and a $100,000 fine.

Earlier this month a second defendant, Mercedes Costoyas, 53, of Iowa City, pleaded guilty in the case. She also was scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 24.

The others have pleaded not guilty, and their trial is set for Aug. 2.

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