Coalfire flames as state reduces charges against courthouse burglars

Attorney for Colorado co-defendants enters not-guilty plea, demands jury trial

Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Cady testified Oct. 4 before the Iowa Senate Government Oversight Committee. He died Friday near his Des Moines home.

Gary Edward Demercurio, 43, of Seattle, Wash., left, and Justin Lawson Wynn, 29, of Naples, Fla., were charged with third-degree burglary and possession of burglary tools after they were found inside the Dallas County Courthouse about 1 a.m. Sept. 11.

Coalfire, a Colorado cybersecurity firm, blasted the Dallas County Sheriff and the Iowa judicial system Tuesday in response to Dallas County Attorney Chuck Sinnard’s reduction from third-degree burglary to criminal trespass the charges filed against the two Coalfire employees who made a midnight entry into the Dallas County Courthouse last month.

Tom McAndrew

“Drop the charges, purge their records,” said Coalfire CEO Tom McAndrew in a statement published on the Coalfire website. McAndrew called the cases “completely ridiculous” and said courthouse crashers Gary DeMercurio and Justin Wynn were “unsung heroes, not criminals.”

A separate Coalfire press release described the prosecution of the cases as “a failure of the criminal justice system in Iowa” and said the “charges against Mr. Wynn and Mr. DeMercurio should be dropped.”

DeMercurio, 43, of Seattle, Wash., and Wynn, 29, of Naples, Fla., were each arrested on charges of third-degree burglary and possession of burglary tools after they allegedly tripped a burglar alarm in the courthouse at 908 Court St. in Adel shortly after midnight Sept. 11.

The Coalfire statement claimed DeMercurio and Wynn “were acting as professionals carrying out their state-authorized obligations” when they “walked into the Dallas courthouse in the evening, gaining access from an open door.”

When law enforcement responded to the alarm activation, they encountered the cyber-penetrators, who said “they were contracted to break into the building for Iowa courts to check the security of the building,” according to court records.

They “explained what they were doing and presented our engagement letter along with identification,” according to McAndrew. “This is the first time that the authorization letter has not resulted in the immediate release of our employees.”

DeMercurio and Wynn were instead arrested and later released from the Dallas County Jail after each posting a $100,000 bond.

The Iowa Senate Government Oversight Committee convened a “fact-finding meeting” Oct. 4 at the state capitol in order to inquire into the unusual incidents. At the meeting, Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Cady apologized to the committee “for diminishing public trust and confidence in the court system.”

Cady said mistakes were made and the responsible parties would be called to account.

“As the leader of the judicial branch,” Cady said, “I take full responsibility just as I now take responsibility to repair the damage and rebuild trust. In our efforts to fulfill our duty to protect confidential information of Iowans from cyber attack, mistakes were made. We are doing everything possible to understand and correct those mistakes, to be accountable for those mistakes and to make sure that they never, ever occur again.”

Replying to Cady, Sen. Tony Bisignano (D-Des Moines) said the court administration’s “gotcha plan” was ill conceived, and he called for further investigation.

“Why you went to such a covert, stupid operation — to me it’s stupid — you created this entire show and tens of thousand if not hundreds of thousands of dollars in costs to local governments,” Bisignano said. “I think you’re going to find a lot more when this investigation’s over, that this took turns that maybe you aren’t even aware of.”

Coalfire’s McAndrew said he expected the matter would be dropped following the committee’s inquiry.

“After the Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice apologized and admitted mistakes were made, I was expecting all charges to be dropped,” McAndrew said. “I’m embarrassed by the way our employees have been vilified, one of which is a former Marine Corps officer, for doing the job they were paid to do. I’m ashamed that no one has had the courage to step up and do what is right. People appear to be more concerned about their own jobs or the political repercussions.”

McAndrew said he thinks Dallas County Sheriff Chad Leonard should have immediately set free Coalfire’s two quasi-military penetration testers on the strength of their “engagement letter” and the sheriff “failed to exercise common sense and good judgement and turned this engagement into a political battle between the state and the county.”

Leonard’s opinion differed from McAndrew’s.

“It’s nothing like that,” Leonard told Wednesday. “I stand by the decision I made. Obviously, I can’t make comments about the case because it’s still in the court’s hands, but he’s overreacting. I do look forward to informing the public of everything. I would just encourage people to not make an opinion until they have all the facts, and I assure you that all the facts are not out there. We did what we were supposed to do, and I stand by my decision to arrest the two.”

Dallas County Attorney Sinnard said he sought the reduced charges “pursuant to newly discovered evidence and for the reason that the facts and circumstances of the case now better fit the elements of the amended charge,” according to court records.

Dallas County District Court Judge Terry Rickers accepted the amended charges and scheduled the defendants for an initial appearance Nov. 6 before a Dallas County Magistrate.

DeMercurio and Wynn are represented by West Des Moines attorney Matthew T. Lindholm, who entered a plea of not guilty on their behalf Monday and demanded a trial by jury, according to court records.

“In the end,” Chief Justice Cady told the state senators, “I hope we will not be judged as much by the mistakes made but by the character that we displayed by accepting responsibility and correcting them.”

*A criminal charge is merely an accusation, and the defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.

Testifying Oct. 4 before the Iowa Senate Government Oversight Committee were, from left, Dallas County Supervisor Mark Hanson, Dallas County Attorney Chuck Sinnard, Dallas County Sheriff Chad Leonard and Dallas County Supervisor Kim Chapman.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.