Woman pleads guilty to cyber stalking rock band's singer

The former Sandia labs worker used government computers to access private data

Devon Townsend, a former employee of the Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, has pleaded guilty to stalking Linkin Park lead singer Chester Bennington and to unlawful access to stored communications.

Townsend, who entered her plea in U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico on June 29, faces up to five years in prison and fines of up to US$250,000 on each count.

On June 29, Townsend admitted that sometime between Jan. 1, 2006 and Nov. 16, 2006, while working in Sandia's technology and manufacturing group, she used government computers to access the e-mail accounts of Bennington and his wife, Talinda.

Townsend said over several months she was able to access family pictures of the Benningtons and their young children; correspondence between Warner Brothers Records and the business attorney for Linkin Park, including a copy of a check made payable to Chester Bennington from the record company as well as a copy of the recording contract between Warner Brothers Records and the members of Linkin Park.

Townsend said she also obtained information about a new home purchase made by the Benningtons, which included such documents as the home inspection report, images of the interior of the house and other real estate documents; information about the Benningtons' travel plans; a copy of a dental bill for Talinda Bennington; and e-mails concerning the whereabouts and after school activities of one of the Benningtons' children.

"By secretly monitoring the Benningtons' private e-mail correspondence I was also able to learn private passwords assigned to the Benningtons which allowed me to access other restricted information on the Internet," she said in court documents. "For example, using the Benningtons' assigned password I was able to access and download copies of the Benningtons' wedding pictures from the Benningtons' wedding photographer's Website."

Townsend said she also accessed the Benningtons' cell phone accounts with Verizon Wireless and without authorization she was able to download the entire contents of one of the couple's telephone bills. She said she used that information to "further her stalking activities," including listening to the Benningtons' voice mail messages.

"With access to the Benningtons' private accounts with entities such as Verizon Wireless, I was able to change the computer passwords assigned to the Benningtons with these companies," she said in her plea agreement. "On at least one occasion I changed the password for one of their computer accounts to something to the effect of 'Who is doing this to you?'"

Linkin Park's publicist at Warner Brothers Records could not be reached for comment.

Raymond Twohig, Townsend's attorney, said if his client had been charged under the appropriate federal statute and found guilty she would have faced much more dire consequences -- a mandatory two years in prison on each count that must run consecutively -- that she's facing by pleading guilty.

"It was a wiser course for her to plead to this," he said.

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