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Federal agents in Los Angeles are searching for a 12-year veteran of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) who last week skipped out on felony charges of illegally selling sensitive information about private citizens from law enforcement computers, SecurityFocus has learned.

"He's a fugitive," said Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the Los Angeles U.S. Attorney's office on Friday. "He was out on bail, he made all of his appearances... Then he didn't show up for trial."

Emilio Calatayud, 35, had been free on a $100,000 property bond since January, 2001, when prosecutors charged him with wire fraud, bribery, and violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act for allegedly selling criminal history and law enforcement information to private investigations firm Triple Check Investigative Services in Los Angeles.

The purloined data allegedly came from three law enforcement computers to which Calatayud had otherwise lawful access: the FBI's National Crime Information Center (NCIC), which maintains nationwide records on arrest histories, convictions and warrants; the California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System (CLETS), a state network that gives agents access to California motor vehicle records, rap sheets and fingerprints; and a DEA system called the Narcotics and Dangerous Drug Information System (NADDIS), described by a Justice Department web page as a database of "over 3,500,000 individuals, businesses, vessels and selected airfields."

The case was investigated by the FBI, the Justice Department, the IRS, and the DEA's Office of Professional Responsibility.

Calatayud's trial was scheduled to begin Tuesday, February 5th. When he didn't show up, the trial judge continued the case to Thursday. The former agent again failed to appear in court, and is now being sought by his former colleagues in law enforcement.

"The investigators involved in this case are looking for him," said Mrozek. "I know they're all eager to see him back in court."

According to Mrozek, Calatayud's attorney could not account for his client's disappearance. The lawyer, John Yzurdiaga, did not return a reporter's phone calls.

Prosecutors say Calatayud peddled data for six years beginning in 1993, supplementing his government paycheck by anywhere from $1,080 to $8,500 in cash each year. In all, Calatayud allegedly earned at least $22,580 with his computer access, at a rate of between $60 and $80 per target.

At that price, if he's guilty, Calatayud can't be accused of overcharging.

In an unrelated data-selling scandal last year, prosecutors charged Maria Emeterio, an officer with the Nevada Attorney General's Office, and Mary Ellen Weeks, an employee of the Las Vegas Municipal court system, with selling over 100 NCIC records to a Las Vegas private investigator for $100 a piece. The private investigator, a former FBI agent, has pleaded guilty in the case.

The vital black market for law enforcement data troubles some privacy advocates, as Washington contemplates creating even more powerful databases in response to the September 11 attacks.

One system under development, as reported by the Washington Post, would link airline reservation computers to government and private databases, creating a single network capable of tracking a person's travel habits, credit card purchases, living arrangements, and other information.

"People in law enforcement already have access to a great deal of personal information," says Tena Friery, research director at the San Diego-based Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. "If that information is being used or being sold, it can have the effect of giving us less security, not more."

© 2002 SecurityFocus.com, all rights reserved.

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