Thursday, June 30, 2005
Robert Johnson, the former CEO of financial information and document management firm Bowne & Co., and also a former publisher of Newsday and member of the New York Board of Regents, was charged with two counts of possession of child pornography and one count of obstruction of justice (indictment here on Findlaw). In May 2004, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents tracked to a Bowne computer the downloading of child pornography from the internet and paid registration at websites that sell child pornography. ICE agents contacted the company to track the internet user to determine his identity. According to the indictment, the agents did not know Johnson was the user, and two company executives contacted about the investigation did the logical thing -- they told the CEO about the ICE investigation. At this point, according to the government, Johnson obtained a computer program called "Evidence Eliminator" and used it to remove child pornography from his work computers (desktop and laptop). (Child pornography is bad enough, but using your work computer to store the images is even more stupid) Once the user was identified, Bowne turned over Johnson's computers for a thorough analysis by government computer experts to recover some of the 12,000 destroyed files.
The obstruction charge against Johnson is under 18 U.S.C. Sec. 1519, a provision added by the Sarbanes-Oxley Act in 2002 when it appeared that the type of document destruction by Arthur Andersen might fall outside the general obstruction statute, Sec. 1512. Section 1519 provides:
Whoever knowingly alters, destroys, mutilates, conceals, covers up, falsifies, or makes a false entry in any record, document, or tangible object with the intent to impede, obstruct, or influence the investigation or proper administration of any matter within the jurisdiction of any department or agency of the United States or any case filed under title 11, or in relation to or contemplation of any such matter or case, shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both.
The charge here involves impeding the ICE investigation by using the file removal program, which is a bit easier to prove than a Sec 1512(c)(1) charge ("Whoever corruptly— (1) alters, destroys, mutilates, or conceals a record, document, or other object, or attempts to do so, with the intent to impair the object’s integrity or availability for use in an official proceeding") because it avoids the "official proceeding" element.
It is also interesting to note Bowne's public disclosure about Johnson in May 2004, when this conduct occurred. A company press release (here) on May 17, 2004, a week after the seizure of Johnson's computers, states: "Bowne & Co., Inc. (NYSE: BNE), a global leader in delivering high-value document management solutions, announced today that Robert M. Johnson, chairman, president and chief executive officer, has retired from the company and the board of directors for personal reasons." We now know what those personal reasons were. An AP story (here) discusses the case. (ph)