Former Public Utility Employee Pleads Guilty to Installing Keylogger Devices on Work Computers
CLEVELAND – John Pelton, 55, of Avon Lake, Ohio, a former Operator with a Northern Ohio public utility, pleaded guilty today to recording the computer keyboard strokes of coworkers while employed at the utility and to making false statements to FBI agents.
Pelton officially pleaded guilty to a Bill of Information charging him with attempting to access a secure computer and obtain information and providing a false statement to a government official.
According to court documents, while working as an Operator with the utility, Pelton purchased two physical keyloggers from eBay with the intent of using them at his place of employment. A physical keylogger is an electronic device that stores and can transmit every keystroke made on a keyboard.
Court documents state that a keylogger is capable of intercepting employee login credentials, messages and any other information typed into a computer. Additionally, these devices have built-in memory capable of storing approximately 16 million keystrokes and could be accessed wirelessly with any Wi-Fi-enabled device, such as a smartphone, allowing the user to download the captured keystrokes remotely.
On Jan. 12, 2021, Pelton installed the keylogger devices at his place of employment on two computers in a control room accessible only via an access badge. According to court records, Pelton installed one keylogger on a control room computer connected to the internet and the utility’s internal network and the other on a second computer used in the delivery of services. Court documents state that the keyloggers would allow Pelton to capture an administrator’s password and access features that he otherwise was unable to access.
According to court documents, one of the computers Pelton installed a keylogger on collected data regarding the use of the utility’s electrical system. The Operators at the utility have the capability to turn the power on and off throughout the network, and, if done incorrectly or inappropriately, an Operator could damage the transmission system, injure employees and possibly negatively impact the energy grid.
On May 24, 2021, Pelton was interviewed by FBI agents at his home regarding his use of the devices. According to court records, Pelton told agents that he did not know what keyloggers were nor their function. Pelton also denied researching keyloggers and stated that he did not remember purchasing or receiving the devices. Court documents state that these claims were false, and Pelton made them knowing that they were false.
Pelton is scheduled to be sentenced on November 16, 2022, before U.S. District Judge David A. Ruiz.
This case was investigated by the Cleveland FBI. This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Segev Phillips and Daniel J. Riedl.