RICHMOND, Va. (CN) – A member of the Virginia House of Delegates has been accused in a federal lawsuit of illegally accessing a former employee’s Facebook, banking and email accounts.
In a complaint filed Thursday in Richmond federal court, former campaign manager and communications director Maureen Hains claims Delegate Dawn Adams, D-Richmond, violated state and federal law after noticing suspicious activity on her accounts.
Adams first won her seat in 2017 as part of a so-called “blue wave” that saw a record number of Democrats and female candidates nearly tip the Virginia House of Delegates to the left for the first time in almost 20 years.
According to the complaint, Hains “suffered a health crisis for which she was admitted to a health care facility” in April.
Following her hospitalization, Adams allegedly began pressuring Hains about her ability to return to work or the possibility of her leaving the job entirely. According to the complaint, while Haines was hospitalized and had no access to digital devices, the lawmaker asked Hains’ girlfriend for her personal Facebook account password to remove her as an administrator on Adams’ official Facebook page.
Administrators can remove other administrators on the social media platform, so Haines claims the request for a password stemmed from an “ulterior motive for obtaining Hains’ login.”
After leaving the hospital, Hains alleges she went to access her personal email account and found a number of suspicious activities, including failed attempts to log in to her Facebook page as well as logins into her personal email from an IP address she believes is linked to Adams.
Hains also claims Adams tried to access her bank account when she found her online account had been suspended due to suspicious activity.
“Based upon the fact that Adams had the password to Hains’ bank account (which
was the same as her other passwords) and the temporal proximity to Adams’ hacking of Hains’ other accounts, Adams was the person who attempted to gain unauthorized online access to Hains’ Wells Fargo account,” the complaint states. (Parentheses in original.)
The complaint asserts violations of several federal laws, including the Stored Communications Act and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, as well as violations of the Virginia Computer Crimes Act.
Haines seeks $550,000 in damages for the alleged privacy violations. She also claims she is owed unpaid wages.
Attempts to reach Adams and Hains were not immediately returned Friday.
John V. Berry, an attorney with the Reston, Virginia law firm Berry & Berry, said he was blown away by the scope of Hains’ complaint. As someone who specializes in both national security and employment law, he thinks the allegations could spell trouble for Adams if they are true.
“Not only is she on the hook for significant liability, there should probably be a criminal investigation as well,” Berry said in a phone interview.
He added, “This could be identity theft or wire tap issues, intercepting communications… deleting emails… criminal issues could arise.”
Berry has also seen the issue of employers accessing employees’ – or former employees’ – social media and email accounts becoming more prevalent.
“This happens a lot,” he said. “Employers think it’s okay to just peak in and see what someone has put on their Gmail or Facebook and they start trolling and that’s against the law.”
“The question remains, how much did Adams know about these issues?” Berry continued. “Once this gets into discovery, anyone involved with the computer [in Adams’ office] is going to flip because they’ll be scared to death.”
It is unclear if a criminal investigation has been opened, as attempts to reach the Virginia attorney general’s office as well as the Richmond commonwealth attorney’s office were not returned Friday.