Two Sentenced for Accessing President’s Student Loan Records

On August 25, 2010, Mercedes Costoyas, a.k.a., Mercedes Costoyas-Perret, 53, of Iowa City, IA, and John P. Phommivong, 30, of North Liberty, IA, were each sentenced to one year probation for exceeding authorized computer access. The sentencing was announced on September 25 by United States Attorney Nicholas A. Klinefeldt.

United States District Judge James E. Gritzner also ordered each defendant to pay $25 to the Crime Victim’s Fund. Both defendants, former Department of Education (DOE) contract employees, had been charged with accessing without authorization the student loan records of President Barack Obama. In the Phommivong case, the offense occurred when President Obama was a candidate for the Presidency. In the Costoyas case, the offense occurred after President Obama took office.

The activities of Costoyas and Phommivong came to light when the United States Department of Education, Office of Inspector General (DOE-OIG) began an investigation to determine if its employees, or those of its contractors, had inappropriately accessed the student loan information of certain celebrities or well-known political and sports figures.

A number of leads came back to Vangent Corporation in Coralville, Iowa. Vangent, a DOE contractor, assists with student loan inquiries via their call center and engages in debt collection. Vangent employees utilize the National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS) database, which is maintained by DOE pursuant to the 1992 Higher Education Act, in the performance of their duties. This database contains the private information of borrowers, including that of President Barack Obama.

As a result of the investigation, nine former employees of Vangent were charged with exceeding authorized computer access. All nine accessed President Obama’s student loan information either while he was a candidate for the presidency, President-Elect or President of the United States. Eight of the nine pled guilty. Another defendant, Sandra Teague, went to trial in August and was found guilty.

This investigation was conducted by the United States Department of Education, Office of Inspector General.

Source: U.S. Attorney’s Office, Southern District of Iowa

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