Healdsburg school district official charged with computer crimes
A Healdsburg school official and her husband turned themselves in this week after state prosecutors filed computer crimes charges against them stemming from a hacking investigation, according to the Northern California Computer Crimes Task Force.
Kestrel Davis Montes, the district’s director of student services, and her husband Francisco Montes, a former employee, are accused of conspiring to hack into the district’s network, monitoring emails and sending a controversial email from an unsuspecting employee’s account, said Carl Chapman, computer crimes task force supervising inspector.
A state Attorney’s Office prosecutor, who works closely with the task force, filed a complaint dated Tuesday in Sonoma County Superior Court charging Montes with network intrusion, identity theft, eavesdropping and conspiracy. Davis Montes was charged with conspiring to commit the same crimes.
The couple reported to the Sonoma County Jail and were released after posting bond on $10,000 bail. They are scheduled to be arraigned Monday, and their attorney Stephen Gallenson declined to comment before their first court appearance.
The matter revolves around an apparent attempt by the Monteses to complain anonymously about another district staff member, Healdsburg High School Principal Lori Rhodes. Davis Montes, who has been on leave from her job since Dec. 1 due to the investigation, had previously been Healdsburg High School’s assistant principal.
It began Oct. 5 with an email sent from the email account of an elementary school teacher purporting to be from a group disgruntled with Rhodes’ leadership and signed “Dedicated Teachers and Staff.”
The email described Rhodes as a “dictator” and lodged claims such as being rude to parents and sending students back to class “who have been caught with knives because she can’t be bothered to address the situation.” The email was sent to the superintendent, district board members and a high-school-wide staff list.
The teacher, Arlie Haun, insisted she had not sent the email, which set in motion an investigation to find out who did, Superintendent Chris Vanden Heuvel said.
Soon after the email was sent, Vanden Heuvel sent a letter alerting district and school staff that the email had been “sent illegally” by someone other than Haun and that he, district staff and members of the local and state teachers associations “condemn this cowardly act and publicly voice their support of Dr. Lori Rhodes.”
A forensic team from the district and the Sonoma County Office of Education found that the Internet address from the device that sent the email traced back to Montes, according to an affidavit filed in support of a search warrant served at the couple’s Santa Rosa home.
Investigators later found that Montes, who had been the district’s technology support coordinator until mid-2014, apparently still had access to the system and used other people’s log-in information to get in.
The day before the email, Davis Montes is reported to have said “wait and see what happens tomorrow” to another staff member.
After the email, investigators uncovered evidence suggesting Montes then monitored district email traffic for “several weeks,” according to the complaint.
The district first met with law enforcement on Oct. 28.
On Thursday, Vanden Heuvel said that the case prompted the district to contract an outside vendor to undertake an audit of its network security and systems.
“Student and personnel data are very important and need to remain inaccessible to anyone on the outside,” Vanden Heuvel said. “We’re taking measures to ensure that.”
You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 521-5220 or email@example.com. On Twitter @jjpressdem.