‘Idol’ runner-up Bowersox finds out her records were checked in Ohio; 2 employees lose jobs

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Bowersox finds out her files were checked in Ohio

COLUMBUS, Ohio — More than a half-dozen public employees snooped in confidential state records for personal information on “American Idol” runner-up Crystal Bowersox, officials said Thursday.

Two workers were ousted after the breaches were discovered, including a star-struck licensing bureau employee who has pleaded not guilty to a felony charge. The charges were first reported early Thursday by The Columbus Dispatch.

The bluesy Bowersox, who grew up in Elliston in northwest Ohio, said the snooping made her feel violated.

“Part of this whole ‘American Idol’ thing and being thrown into a spotlight, people are going to get curious,” Bowersox told The Blade of Toledo. “But I don’t think any of the people who participated in it would have wanted it to happen to them or their family members. That’s disgusting.”

During May, the month viewers awarded her second place on the Fox singing competition, the Ohio State Highway Patrol audited state databases and found that files on her had been improperly accessed eight times, dating to early in the television season, patrol spokesman Lt. Gary Lewis told The Associated Press.

The searches had been done by workers at locations around Ohio, including law enforcement agencies, a hospital, a court and the state Bureau of Motor Vehicles headquarters.

Most of the people who improperly checked on the singer were temporarily suspended or otherwise disciplined, Lewis said. But a municipal court employee in northern Ohio was asked to resign, and a 17-year Bureau of Motor Vehicles employee was indicted on a felony charge of unauthorized use of property and was fired June 22.

Jay Wright, a 47-year-old BMV customer service assistant, told officials that he was a fan of “Idol,” that he liked Bowersox’s voice, and that his curiosity got the better of him.

“I saw she was indeed from Ohio (a little town I never heard of) and thought ‘great … a local girl may have a shot at making it big,’” Wright said in a statement to investigators. He said he never used any of her personal information for financial or personal gain.

“I am truly sorry and now I know better,” said Wright, who has pleaded not guilty.

Lewis called the audit a “proactive step” as Bowersox gained national attention, and one that reflected a 2009 state law cracking down on unauthorized record-checking. The law was prompted by checks done on another Ohio celebrity, Samuel J. Wurzelbacher, the 2008 presidential campaign figure known as “Joe the Plumber.”

Bowersox was notified in a July 1 letter from David A. Brown, chief information security officer for the Ohio Department of Public Safety, that her driving record had been improperly accessed. He wrote that there was no evidence the information was used for identity theft.

Bowersox said her father shared the letter with her only this month, when she went back home following her summer tour with the other “Idol” finalists. She said she did not plan to sue.

A message seeking comment was left for Bowersox by the AP on the voicemail of her bass player and close friend. A phone listing for Bowersox’s father was not in service.

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