Two Men Charged with Theft of VA Laptop

Police suspect the two men were on a burglary spree and not aware that the laptop contained sensitive, personal information.

A pair of Maryland men have been charged with taking the laptop computer that contained the personal information of millions of veterans and active duty military personnel, authorities said.

While the two men have been charged with stealing the laptop from the home of a Department of Veterans Affairs employee on May 3, it did not appear that they were after the information stored on the computer and external hard drive, the Montgomery County Police Department said in a statement.

The men, Jesus Alex Pineda, 19, and Christian Brian Montano, 19, both of Rockville, Md., have each been charged with burglary and theft of more than $500, police said. Montano faces an additional charge of conspiracy.

Charges are also pending against a juvenile. His name was not released because of his age, police said.

The case has caused an uproar with veterans and military groups and led to a scathing report from the VA inspector general. That report found lax oversight of the records and a poor response from Veterans Affairs officials after the initial report of the theft.

/zimages/1/28571.gifClick here to read more about the VA inspector generals report.

The laptop and the external hard drive were missing for more than a month. The hardware was later found by U.S. Park Police on June 28. A forensic report by the FBI found a "high degree of confidence" that the records had not been compromised.

The laptop computer had been taken from the Maryland home of an unnamed VA employee, who had taken the information home so that he could work on a personal project. The computer contained the names, Social Security numbers and dates of birth of millions of veterans, active duty personnel and some spouses, as well as some disability ratings.

On May 3, the two men broke into the employees home through a rear basement window. They took the laptop—a Hewlett-Packard HPZ5360—an external HP PC170 hard drive, and some jewelry and an undisclosed amount of cash, according to police.

On Aug. 4, Montgomery police received new information and that led to the charges against Pineda and Montano on Aug. 5. The statement issued by the police department did not reveal details of what information led to the charges.

"The investigation now confirms that the individuals responsible for this residential burglary did not specifically target this home and were not specifically seeking to steal a laptop," according to the Montgomery Police Department statement. "They did not know that the hard drive contained veterans information, until the case and the reward was publicized."

The two men are also suspects in several other home burglaries in Montgomery County.

The news of the missing data has sparked one federal lawsuit by several veterans groups that seeks $1,000 for every compromised name on the missing data list. The lawsuit also asks for a court to supervise other privacy-protected data.

In a statement, Secretary of Veterans Affairs R. James Nicholson praised the work of local and federal law enforcement to recover the laptop and called the charges against the two men "good news."

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