Cuesta College data breach gone wild



A crime spree that started with a June investigation into an alleged data breach at Cuesta College and turned into a drug bust with several other crimes tacked on, is over, for now.

Former Cuesta employee Lacey Fowler, 29, of Paso Robles, was arrested on July 13 after taking investigators from the San Luis Obispo District Attorney’s (DA) Office and several local law enforcement agencies on a wild ride.

On June 11, Cuesta College Superintendent and President Gil Stork sent an email and a mailed letter to employees informing them of the discovery of a May 31 breach in which employees’ personal information—including home addresses, telephone numbers, email addresses, birth dates, and Social Security numbers—was sent to a personal email account.

That same afternoon, DA’s Office investigators and SLO County Sheriff’s deputies went to the Paso Robles home of Fowler and her husband, Chad, 34, for a follow-up investigation. During that visit, investigators said they discovered a large amount of narcotics in a storage unit, including 4.5 pounds of methamphetamine—1 1/2 pounds of which was divided into 11 plastic bags—and 7.1 ounces of black tar heroin. Chad was arrested and charged with possession of heroin and meth for sale.

On June 17, DA’s Office investigators and Sheriff’s deputies arrested Fowler for her alleged involved in the data breach. Fowler, who later resigned from her post as the college’s human resources analyst, was taken to SLO County Jail under felony charges of improperly accessing a computer system, according to officials with Cuesta College and the DA’s Office. Fowler posted bail. Then, she skipped her court date.

Officially on the lam, Fowler allegedly broke into a car and stole a payroll check worth a little more than $1,000, cashing it at the Paso Robles Walmart on July 7.

During that time, the DA’s Office found more to charge her with, according to Assistant District Attorney Lee Cunningham. Those charges include alleged spousal battery and disobeying a restraining order from a June 5 incident, allegedly being under the influence of a controlled substance and possession of paraphernalia for a controlled substance from a May 30 incident, and felony charges for the drugs found in her home on June 11.

On July 13, a tipster told the Paso Robles Police Department (PRPD) that they spotted Fowler. PRPD Lt. Ty Lewis told New Times that Fowler attempted to hide from a responding police officer then tried to run away. The officer pursued Fowler, who tried to elbow him as he tackled her to the ground. She was arrested and subsequently charged with even more things: resisting arrest and possession of a controlled substance—officers allegedly found 3 grams of methamphetamine in her purse.

Cunningham said Fowler will appear in court on July 20 facing a laundry list of charges stemming from the six separate cases. Fowler’s bail is set at $950,000.

-- Melody DeMeritt - former city council member, Morro Bay

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