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E-Mails Play Key Role in Investigation into University of Illinois Board of Trustees Misconduct

“….the son of a key employee of mine…”

The Background
Stories of very smart people getting caught red-handed because of incriminating emails have been well-publicized for the last few years. You might think that this publicity would deter people from creating potentially incriminating email evidence….think again. Another front page story offers a reminder that email discovery is alive and well…and is still a very effective discovery tool indeed.
Several University of Illinois Board of Trustee members have recently come under fire for allegedly using their clout to help friends get to the head of the line in admissions into the U of I. This widely-covered story has painted a picture of another example of corrupt Illinois officials, as recently reported by the Chicago Tribune. In one case, a  board member sought admission for a relative of convicted influence peddler Antoin “Tony” Rezko. The student application, initially denied, was subsequently changed to a submit.

The Allegations
E-Mail records uncovered under the Freedom of Information act provide a unique peek into the mindset of some of the board members as they used their clout to grant favors…perhaps to the detriment of more qualified legitimate applicants. In one email, a trustee asks if a well-connected student could be admitted even thought the trustee admitted he knew nothing about the prospective student…

“I have no idea what the data are.”

The Result
A shake up on the board is underway and the investigation continues.

The Take-Aways

  1. Never assume the individuals involved are “too smart” to leave behind an email trail. Emails can sometimes be recovered…even if the culprit tried to delete them.
  2. Deleting leaves clues. Electronic evidence indicating a defendant tried to remove emails from their computer after knowledge of an impending law suit can be very powerful and sometimes case dispository.
  3. Know where to look. A typical email written and sent to two people will often ultimately reside in as many as 5 different locations, including email servers, the recipient’s computer, third party ISP email systems, back-up tapes, and blackberries. Remember this if the defendant claims they “lost” their computer. You can find the evidence elsewhere.
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About Jeff Hartman

Jeff is a 30 year veteran of the corporate security, computer forensics, and eDiscovery community and a co-founder and partner at 4Discovery. 4Discovery is a leading provider of computer incident response and computer forensics services to attorneys, corporate security executives, and the information protection community.