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Database fraud trial of ex-ATC head opens in Baton Rouge

Proving that someone committed a crime often involves prosecutors showing the motivation behind the alleged offense. It's not enough to show a criminal act took place. Intent, like personal or financial benefits, also must be evident to a jury for a conviction to be obtained.

A Baton Rouge trial opened recently over charges against the former head of the Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control. Federal prosecutors said the ex-ATC commissioner misused his position when he scanned law enforcement databases to dig up private information on individuals for personal gain.

Prosecutors backed down on some of more than 40 counts against the ousted ATC commissioner before the trial got underway. Ten charges for aggravated identity theft and making false statements were shelved when the government admitted some of the alleged database searches were not conducted on the ATC system.

Left on the table are computer fraud charges and some false-statement claims and aggravated ID theft allegations. The ID thefts are related to database checks performed with the identities or computers of other ATC staff members. The alleged searches contained driver's license and criminal background checks - possibly on prominent individuals - for personal rather than professional reasons.

The 60-year-old former commissioner not only stated the charges weren't true, but said they were politically motivated. The defendant believes the governor fired him in 2010, two years after the improper searches reportedly began, because the commissioner denied a liquor license to a New Orleans entertainment venue near the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

Some of the names on the government's witness list are the same people, according to the Louisiana Inspector General's office, to have had their personal data viewed by the ex-state official.

Criminal attorneys remind defendants that whatever the government alleges you did, prosecutors must prove you did. The case crumbles unless it can be proven that a defendant intentionally committed a crime for gain.

Source: theadvocate.com, "Some charges against Painter dismissed, jury selected" Bill Lodge, Dec. 11, 2013

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