Barack Obama with his grandparents when he was a student at Columbia University in New York City
A defense attorney representing one of the nine individuals indicted in federal court for looking up President Obama’s student-loan records characterized the Department of Justice’s actions as a political prosecution.
“The only reason my client was prosecuted by the federal government was that he happened to look up the student-loan records of Barack Obama,” attorney David R. Treimer of Davenport, Iowa, told WND.
Treimer represents John Phommivong, a 29-year-old who is the son of parents who fled Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War.
Phommivong has pleaded guilty in the case and is awaiting a pre-sentencing conference in court with the prosecutors Aug. 31 and a sentencing hearing scheduled for Sept. 24.
He is charged in the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of Iowa with a criminal misdemeanor under 26 U.S.C. Section 1030, a broadly worded section of the federal code devoted to computer fraud that carries a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a $100,000 fine, if convicted.
Phommivong also looked up student-loan records for Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt and John Wayne, according to Treimer.
“There was no criminal intent on the part of my client,” Treimer insists. “He was just bored and to pass the time he used the National Student Loan Data System to look up the student-loan records of celebrities.”
Treimer insisted that looking up Barack Obama’s student-loan records was what triggered his prosecution.
All nine of the defendants, including Phommivong, were employees of Arlington, Va.-based Vangent Inc., a private industry contractor that assists the Department of Education in researching student-loan cases.
The nine had been accused of accessing information about Obama’s student-loan records between July 2007 and March 2009, before and after Obama was elected, from the Coralville, Iowa, offices of Vangent, Inc.
“The only crime here was to access the records without having a legitimate business purpose,” Treimer said. “My client did nothing to disseminate any of the celebrity student-loan information he looked at.”
Treimer said he had no idea if the Obama student-loan records included any irregularities or any information that would indicate that Obama had applied for student loans as a foreign student.
Treimer did not expect his client would receive a maximum sentence in the case.
“Phommivong has already lost his job,” Treimer said. “I expect his sentence will be probation only, involving no jail time and no fine. He may have made a mistake accessing the records, but he really did not have any criminal intent here.”
Treimer told WND that Phommivong, still unemployed, has now registered for a culinary school.
Prosecutor Joel Barrows of the U.S. Attorney’s office in Davenport, Iowa, told WND that four of the nine defendants have now pled guilty.
Barrows declined to comment on any substantive aspects of the cases, noting that each case where the defendants had pled “not guilty” would be tried separately, with trials scheduled to begin Aug. 2 and Sept. 7.
Should the defendants actually have retained the records they accessed, the information could blow the lid off questions still surrounding Obama’s past.
As WND has reported, several of Obama’s records from his college years remain off-limits to the public, including his Occidental College records, his Columbia University records, his Columbia thesis, his Harvard Law School records, his Harvard Law Review articles and his scholarly articles from the University of Chicago.
The dearth of information led to a popular e-mail hoax declaring Obama’s Occidental records had been found, revealing he received financial aid for foreign-born students.
“We do not know the intentions of our former employees,” Vangent company spokesman Eileen Rivera told WND for a previous story. “However, no evidence of misuse of the data by former employees was found.”
Contacted for this story, Rivera declined to make additional comments.
“That was then and this is now,” Rivera said. “At this point in the criminal case, we are not going to make any additional comments.”
The remaining defendants indicted in May include Andrew J. Lage, Patrick E. Roan, Sandra Teague, Gary N. Grenell, Anne C. Rhodes, Lisa Torney, Julie Lynn Kline and Mercedes Costoyas.