Expert: Bianchi secretary's computer had 'hidden' files
Expert: Accused official's secretary had campaign files on county hard drive
A computer forensics expert testified Tuesday in the corruption trial of McHenry County State's Attorney Lou Bianchi and his secretary that in examining her work computer he discovered numerous campaign-related files that were "hidden."
Daniel Jerger, vice president of information technology consulting for Quest Consultants, said he conducted a forensic analysis of Joyce Synek's computer hard drive last summer at the request of special prosecutors Thomas McQueen and Henry Tonigan. On it he found contact lists for Bianchi's allies and donors, and form letters to "supporters" and Republican committeemen on letterhead from his 2008 candidacy, along with rosters for attendees and sponsors for Bianchi's fundraisers, Jerger testified.
Jerger said 70 of the 206 files on Synek's computer were created on Aug. 8, 2007, and contained in a folder partially named "uninstall."
"That folder has the property of being hidden," Jerger said, noting a computer user would have to take extra steps to find and view it.
Bianchi, 67, a second-term Republican from Crystal Lake, is charged with conspiracy, official misconduct, and unlawful communication with a grand jury witness.
Synek, 62, is accused of conspiracy, perjury and obstructing justice -- specifically deleting files from her computer after she testified to a special grand jury. Charges allege that he used county time and resources on his political campaign.
Both have pleaded not guilty.
Bianchi's attorney, Terry Ekl, noted that the 70 files were created on Synek's computer within an 11-second window on Aug. 8, 2007, meaning somebody or someone most likely copied the files onto the computer instead of actually physically typing them onto the screen that day.
Ekl argued that Synek's computer was infected with viruses and the McHenry County IT department ran anti-virus software on it in early July 2010, which could have deleted numerous files as it fixed the problem.
Ekl, who has accused Tonigan and McQueen of trumping up charges so they can bill the county more money, also took a shot at Jerger's firm, which has billed the county $86,250 so far.
Ekl and Ernest DiBenedetto, who is Synek's attorney, also noted there were 14 user profiles for Synek's computer.
If convicted, Bianchi and Synek could be sentenced to anywhere from probation to five years in prison.
Also on Tuesday, Bianchi's administrative manager, Karen Rhodes, testified for the prosecution that Bianchi sent out a memo in the fall of 2007 warning top employees not to store political or campaign documents and lists on their county-owned computers.
Rhodes, who also co-chaired Bianchi's re-election campaign in 2008, testified that she didn't trust her personal laptop, so she backed up spreadsheets and invitation lists on her county computer without Bianchi's knowledge. She was granted immunity from prosecution.
Also in the fall of 2007, an investigation was launched after a former secretary, Amy Dalby, copied files that she said indicated she asked to do campaign work while being paid by the state's attorney's office.
"I was upset after the Dalby investigation started," said Rhodes, who was granted immunity in the case. "I was vocal about that (not using county computers for the campaign) in the office."
The prosecution plans to call Nichole Owens, the former chief of McHenry's criminal division who now works downstate, Wednesday morning as its final witness in the bench trial before Winnebago County Judge Joseph McGraw.
After Owens is done, Ekl plans to ask the judge for a directed finding -- to rule on the case before the defense even presents a witness.
"That's all this case has ever been -- maintaining campaign documents on the office computer," he said outside the courtroom. "Does that sound like a conspiracy?"