By Noah Haglund and Scott North Herald Writers
EVERETT — A criminal evidence-tampering charge has been filed against a onetime aide to Aaron Reardon, the former Snohomish County executive who resigned last year after a string of scandals.
Kevin Hulten, 35, committed a gross misdemeanor in March 2013 when he downloaded a data “wiping” program onto a county-owned laptop, Skagit County deputy prosecutors concluded.
The act came just hours before Hulten was required to surrender the computer for examination by King County detectives. The investigators were trying to determine whether Hulten had broken any laws after being linked by The Herald to a shadowy effort that for months had targeted Reardon’s political rivals with anonymous records requests, spoof emails and Web hit pages.
Evidence tampering is punishable by up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine.
Hulten is scheduled to make a first appearance in Cascade District Court in Arlington on July 7, and he intends to plead guilty, his attorney, Jim Johanson of Edmonds, said Friday afternoon.
“He’s going to take responsibility for the charge,” Johanson said, adding that is in keeping with an agreed disposition reached with prosecutors.
“Kevin obviously wants to put this behind him,” he added.
The investigation was handled by King County detectives, and the charging decision was made by Skagit County prosecutors at the request of Snohomish County officials, who have been trying to avoid a conflict of interest in the case.
Hulten went to work for Reardon in January 2011 and almost immediately immersed himself in courthouse intrigue, advancing Reardon’s agenda while repeatedly using pseudonyms to snipe at the reputations of people he perceived to be a threat to his boss, records show.
He was placed on leave in March 2013 after an investigation by The Herald demonstrated that Hulten had adopted the alias “Edmond Thomas” and threatened to sue the county if it didn’t comply with his demands for thousands of documents, which focused on nearly 20 of his fellow county employees.
Most of those people had earlier cooperated with a Washington State Patrol investigation of Reardon’s use of public funds in an affair with a county social worker. Some of those targeted said the “Edmond Thomas” requests seemed to be retaliation or an attempt at surveillance and harassment.
Reardon announced his resignation a week after the “Edmond Thomas” articles were published by The Herald. Hulten initially denied involvement. He ultimately admitted he was behind the demands for records but insisted there was no intent to harass or surveil.
Thien Do, a major crimes detective with the King County Sheriff’s Office, used computer forensics to gather evidence showing Hulten downloaded the data-wiping program about two hours before other county employees retrieved the laptop.
“It is unknown what content was actually deleted,” Skagit County deputy prosecutors Sloan Johnson and Paul Nielsen wrote in an affidavit filed this week with the Cascade District Court charge.
Hulten broke the law because he “was on notice that an official proceeding was pending, and he acted without legal right or authority” to destroy evidence, the prosecutors wrote.
Skagit County Prosecutor Rich Weyrich said Hulten is the only person who will face charges.
“He’s the only one that we have looked at,” he said.
Weyrich said his staff had no contact with Reardon during the case.
The King County investigation examined several county-owned computers Hulten had used, including those on desks within Reardon’s former suite of offices. In addition to records demonstrating that Hulten was behind the “Edmond Thomas” effort, they found evidence Hulten used the publicly owned computers to work on Reardon’s 2011 re-election campaign on county time, as well to perform background checks of other elected county leaders.
Hulten claimed he was being retaliated against for attempting to become a government whistleblower. Snohomish County spent nearly $35,000 on an independent attorney to investigate Hulten’s claims of government corruption. She determined they were baseless.
The examination of computers Hulten had used led county officials to recover roughly 400 documents that earlier had been deleted from a county laptop assigned to Hulten. The records provide a window into Hulten’s involvement in Reardon’s 2011 re-election campaign, including evidence he spent time on the job developing ethics complaints against Reardon’s Republican opponent and building Reardon’s campaign website.
Investigators are actively working the cases, PDC spokeswoman Lori Anderson said. They’re not sure when that work will conclude. The commission can levy fines if it finds wrongdoing.
Hulten resigned from his county job in April 2013 just before being fired for using county computers to view and store commercial pornography and sexually explicit images of himself and a former girlfriend. He’s since relocated to California.
Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465, firstname.lastname@example.org.