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Texas elections-monitoring group forced to name source of hacked poll worker data

Election security proponents say a software company's lawsuit accusing them of hacking should be dismissed because the company insists there is no evidence of any breach of its computer systems.

HOUSTON (CN) — Counsel for a Texas voter fraud conspiracy group, in open court Thursday, reluctantly provided the name of a man who set off an FBI investigation into a software company’s compromised U.S. poll worker data.

Eugene Yu, CEO and founder of Konnech Inc., a Michigan election logistics software purveyor, was supposed to be at a hearing Thursday in Houston federal court for his company’s lawsuit against True the Vote, a Texas nonprofit that backs Donald Trump’s claims voter fraud cost him the 2020 presidential election.

But Yu was in Michigan working out a bail agreement following his arrest Tuesday “on suspicion of theft of personal identifying information” by investigators with the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, with help from local police.

According to District Attorney George Gascón, Konnech has a contract with LA County that mandates it keep election worker information on secure servers in the United States, and a probe by his office found probable cause to believe Konnech was storing the data on servers in China.

Yu’s bail deal stipulates he must report to LA County by Oct. 14 to face charges.

Konnech’s software helps local governments manage poll workers and coordinate allocation of equipment, it has nothing to do with counting ballots, the company says.

With Yu arranging his surrender, Konnech’s attorney Dean Pamphilis was in a hearing at the Houston federal courthouse explaining he believes Yu was wrongfully arrested because LA County prosecutors say Konnech stole information about poll workers, but the county itself gave Konnech that data.

If Konnech did err by storing the data on Chinese servers, that’s a contract issue, said Pamphilis, who revealed he has yet to see Yu’s sealed indictment.

“It appears Yu was arrested because of a breach of contract by Konnech,” Pamphilis told U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt, adding that the district attorney noted there is no evidence Konnech tried to sell the poll workers’ data, which may include their names, addresses and Social Security numbers.

The provenance of the data is at the center of Konnech’s lawsuit against True the Vote, its founder Catherine Engelbrecht and board member Gregg Phillips, in which it makes claims of defamation, tortious interference, conversion and violations of the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.  

According to the lawsuit, Phillips admitted on an Aug. 23 podcast he had targeted Konnech’s server with a group of hackers.

“Phillips described meeting his ‘guys’ at a hotel room in Dallas, where they put ‘towels under the doors’ like ‘some kind of a James Bond kind of thing,’ and proceeded to hack into a Konnech server,” the complaint states.

True the Vote’s counsel, Brock Akers of Houston, told a different tale at Thursday’s hearing.

He said the data — which True the Vote alleges includes the personal information of 1.8 million U.S. poll workers — was obtained by an independent contractor who is not part of True the Vote, and the man contacted Phillips and informed him he had “come across” the information.

Akers said Phillips realized the data presented serious national security concerns and told the FBI about it and introduced the contractor to the FBI.

“What reason do you believe Phillips verified any of this data was coming from China?” Hoyt asked Akers.

“What Phillips told me he saw,” Akers replied.

“And you don’t have any sworn statement from Phillips saying this is a person he could vouch for? … You don’t know if the man really got the data from China,” Hoyt said.

Hoyt signed a temporary restraining order on September 12, ordering True the Vote, Engelbrecht and Phillips to return all data obtained from Konnech’s password protected computers, to identify each person involved in accessing them, and to identify each person they know of who has had possession of any information or data from Konnech’s computers.

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Though True the Vote’s attorneys had already shared the name of the independent man who purportedly swiped the data with Hoyt, Pamphilis complained at Thursday’s hearing they had yet to give him the man’s name.

Akers all but begged Hoyt not to make him disclose the man’s name: “On behalf of my clients we don’t want to release the name of this individual … due to danger from forces of the Chinese Communist party.”

Hoyt would not budge. “You’re going to give that [name] to counsel today,” the Ronald Reagan appointee said.

True the Vote’s other attorney, Mark Brewer of the Houston firm Brewer and Pritchard, tried another tack.

He argued Konnech had undercut the whole premise of its lawsuit when, in response to True the Vote’s allegations it was careless with poll worker data, it published a statement on its website titled "The Truth About Konnech."

The company stated it has never stored customer data on servers on China and it had “thoroughly investigated True the Vote’s claims and found no evidence whatsoever of any breach of our systems or Konnech data anywhere in the world.”

“Plaintiff’s own statement said the company has never been hacked. … You can’t have a hacking by saying I’ve seen the data,” Brewer said.

Hoyt was not swayed. “Your client [Phillips] is all over the internet saying he got the data,” the judge said.

According to Konnech’s lawsuit, Yu, its CEO, and his family had to leave their home due to threats from True the Vote’s supporters.

But Akers, True the Vote’s co-counsel, said Yu is not alone in that regard. He said Phillips and Engelbrecht have recently received death threats. “She [Engelbrecht] has drones flying over her house,” he added.

Akers told Judge Hoyt, “Among my fears is that you’d think I would play a game.”

“Maybe you’ve been played,” Hoyt replied.

But Akers stuck up for True the Vote. He said he believes the group has legitimate evidence of voter fraud.

“I think I’m a pretty good judge of character,” Akers asserted.

Engelbrecht stars in the documentary “2000 Mules.” Trump hosted its premiere in May at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. Engelbrecht alleges in the film that people had stored fraudulent ballots at “stash houses” in Arizona, facilitating illegal voting in the 2020 presidential election, among other conspiratorial claims critics say have been debunked.

Akers finally gave in at the end of Thursday’s 90-minute hearing. He wrote the name of the man responsible for the alleged hack of Konnech’s servers on a notepad and gave it to Pamphilis. At Pamphilis’ urging Akers also said the name out loud but his voice sounded garbled from the gallery.

Pamphilis, of the firm Kasowitz Benson Torres, declined to share the name with reporters after the hearing.

Hoyt agreed to adjudicate Konnech’s motion for a preliminary injunction — which would extend the restrictions on True the Vote sharing the poll worker data — based solely on written pleadings, without hearing witness testimony.

He gave Pamphilis until Oct. 11 to file a response to True the Vote’s motion to deny a preliminary injunction.

Though True the Vote posted a statement on its website following Yu's arrest saying it "is honored to have played a small role in what must have been a wide ranging and complex investigation," a spokesperson for DA Gascón told Votebeat that L.A. County prosecutors had not received any information from True the Vote for the case.

But True the Vote's attorney, Brock Akers, revealed in an October 12 court filing Phillips had in fact testified before the grand jury that indicted Yu.

"Phillips testified before the Grand Jury that indicted Mr. Yu and he continues to be bound by the secrecy of that proceeding which he was sworn to uphold," Akers wrote in a motion for abeyance.

True the Vote wants Judge Hoyt to hold off on issuing any rulings in the case until October 19.

According to the motion, True the Vote has been "reliably informed" Yu's indictment will be unsealed October 14 when he is arraigned in Los Angeles County, which will shed light on why it believes it cannot comply with Hoyt's temporary restraining order mandating it tell Konnech "how, when and by whom Konnech's protected computers were accessed."

"Defendants have been reliably informed by federal law enforcement that compliance with Paragraphs V, VI and VII of the TRO would jeopardize national security and the physical security of the individual named in the last hearing," True the Vote's motion states.

Konnech's counsel named the alleged hacker in an October 11 motion for leave to amend its lawsuit.

True the Vote's filing cites another reason for its abeyance request: "Defendant Phillips’ newly engaged counsel, John C. Kiyonaga of Alexandria, Virginia, will require at least a week adequately to apprise himself of this case so as to enable his effective representation of his client."

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