The 39-year-old computer tech apparently couldn’t help himself. Even as the State Bureau of Investigation closed in on him last year, Nilesh Tailor kept illegally accessing Register of Deeds Laura Riddick’s email messages, according to the SBI.
Most of those emails were public record. He could have read many of them legally, if he had only asked.
Yet Tailor instead built a backdoor in Wake County’s email systems, accessing Riddick’s messages for almost two years through a secret Yahoo account and identity-obscuring technology.
Prosecutors suggested Friday that Tailor may have just been curious, just wanted to see what his boss was talking about on email.
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The strange case’s beginning and end became public at the Wake County Courthouse on Friday as the Apex resident pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts.
Tailor, a computer system administrator, began to access Riddick’s email in December 2012, according to District Attorney Lorrin Freeman.
Riddick is in charge of property deeds, vital records and business filings in Wake County. Some of her emails, such as contract negotiations and those containing certain personal information, are shielded from public records laws.
“Somehow, he started this, and was reviewing it, and it just continued,” Freeman said in court.
Tailor set up an “auto-forwarding rule,” automatically sending Riddick’s messages to an external email account he controlled. Digital records show that account was accessed more than a thousand times over the years, according to the SBI agent who investigated the case.
The emails often were viewed from an address matching Tailor’s home in Apex, according to the SBI.
Sometimes the records showed access from addresses all over the world – apparently because Tailor was covering his tracks with Tor, a program that promises online anonymity. He often accessed the email with his personal laptop at work.
Wake County staff caught on to the scheme in September 2014, during a routine maintenance check, according to Freeman. The SBI began circling in soon afterward.
Tailor continued accessing the email messages even as Assistant Special Agent Kathy O’Brien’s investigation and interviews got underway, O’Brien said in court. County staff had tried to stop the flow of emails, but a glitch left Tailor’s system in place, O’Brien said.
“So even after I interviewed Mr. Tailor on Sept. 26, he continued to access the email up until the point that Yahoo account was shut down on Nov. 3 or 4,” the agent said.
County staff were preparing a response on Friday afternoon.
Tailor has no prior criminal record, and he never seemed to use the information.
“It apparently was a matter of curiosity,” Freeman said. “As you know, Laura Riddick has served this county for many years very ably, and depends very much on being able to trust her staff. This was a major violation of trust on behalf of the defendant.”
Judge Jacqueline Brewer sentenced Tailor to one year of probation, 75 hours of community service and several hundred dollars in fines. He pleaded guilty to misdemeanor counts of computer trespassing and resisting, delaying or obstructing justice.
He is a father of two small children and works now as a technology professional at a company in Research Triangle Park, according to his attorney, Thomas Manning.
Tailor has worked in the past for Duke University, Fidelity Investments and First Citizens Bank, according to a LinkedIn profile.
Tailor and his attorney declined to comment Friday.
“I’m terribly disappointed that anyone, especially one of our own computer system administrators, would break into my official email more than 1,000 times, some of which was confidential under state law – and then obstruct justice by secretly monitoring the criminal investigation itself,” Riddick said in a statement she released by email.
Riddick is still waiting on an apology, she said.