The hacker who led federal officials to disable the FAFSA’s data-retrieval tool appears to have been aiming to use the system to get access to President Donald Trump’s tax information, according to a news report.
The latest issue of Diverse Issues in Higher Education reports that a private investigator named Jordan Hamlett is allegedly behind the 2016 activity that set off alarm bells and prompted the Internal Revenue Service and the U.S. Department of Education to disable the data-retrieval tool in March, fearful that identity thieves could steal students’ information.
The seven-year-told tool makes it easier for students to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid by auto-populating their online application with their family’s tax information. The tool is now offline until at least the fall.
Court records obtained by Diverse say that in 2016, Hamlett, a 31-year-old Louisiana-based private investigator, “unlawfully attempted to obtain Trump’s federal tax information from the U.S. Department of Education and IRS using the web application Federal Student Aid—Datashare.”
At a hearing of the U.S. House committee on oversight and government reform earlier this month, Timothy P. Camus, the deputy inspector general for investigations at the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, alluded to the Hamlett case but did not mention Hamlett by name, or say that Trump was the target.
He said only that his agency “detected an attempted access to the [adjusted gross income] of a prominent individual.” That person was identified through an investigation, and was arrested, and the case is “proceeding through the court system,” Camus said, according to Diverse.
Diverse tracked down the case, which is in the U.S. district court in Baton Rouge, La., and obtained the court records electronically. The records show that Hamlett is charged with false representation of a Social Security number, which is a felony.
The indictment, which was originally sealed, says Hamlett tried to enter a Social Security number that wasn’t his into a FAFSA application online. The last four digits were consistent with a number that the “hacktivist” group Anonymous released last year, and which the group claimed belonged to Trump, Diverse said.
FBI agents interviewed Hamlett on October 27 in Baton Rouge, several weeks after the alleged hack of tax information on Sept. 13, Diverse reported. He was arrested in November but has been released on the condition that he be monitored, the publication reported.
A motion filed in the case shows that Hamlett sought to have some or all of his statements during the FBI interview thrown out of the case, claiming he hadn’t been appropriately advised of his right to an attorney, and was being detained against his will.
A judge ruled against Hamlett’s motion. "(Hamlett) almost immediately volunteered that he had committed the crime before being accused of anything,” U.S. District Judge James Brady wrote, according to the Associated Press.
Hamlett’s attorney was not immediately available for comment.
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A version of this news article first appeared in the High School & Beyond blog.