A Mississippi sheriff has pleaded guilty to wire fraud and identity theft. The charges against Sheriff Cory Hutcheson, dating back as far as 2014, stem from his improper use of cellphone location technology. In the wake of the allegations against him, Hutcheson agreed to resign his office and plead guilty to two of the 27 felony counts against him. The Mississippi County Circuit Court has also leveled charges against Hutcheson including robbery, forgery, computer tampering and making a false arrest.
Faced with the evidence gathered by mobile forensics experts, Hutcheson admitted that he used his power as sheriff to obtain location data for hundreds of people, including law officers and a judge. Cell phone numbers and false documentation were submitted to law enforcement technology company Securus Location Based Services (LBS) to obtain GPS coordinates of users without their consent.
“Sheriff Hutcheson simply misused an important law enforcement tool for his own purposes,” said U.S. Attorney Jeff Jensen. “[Hutcheson] invaded the privacy of hundreds without the appropriate legal process.” On his Facebook page, Hutcheson wrote: “I am truly sorry for the embarrassment and disappointment my actions have caused my family, my supporters and the people of Mississippi County.” Hutcheson took office in January 2017 and his short tenure was mired in controversy. Before his arrest, the Missouri attorney general sought his dismissal after an inmate died under his custody in county jail.
This is not the only time Securus has made headlines. Used primarily for monitoring prisoner phone calls, the organization has faced widespread criticism for its pricing practices and for recording conversations between inmates and their attorneys. In May 2018, the company came under fire once again when Oregon Senator Ron Wyden revealed Securus could track the location of any cell phone user, not just inmates. Securus’ own documents describe its service as able to provide “the location of a suspect’s cell phone, in real time, regardless of whether a call is in process.” As a result of the Hutcheson case, Securus may be found in violation of laws that prohibit the obtaining of confidential telephone numbers via false representation.
Unfortunately for his victims, Hutcheson didn’t limit his requests to criminal suspects, and Securus didn’t verify that his submitted paperwork was legitimate. When sentenced, the former sheriff faces a maximum of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for the wire fraud charge, and a maximum 5-year, $250,000 fine for the charge of identity theft.