By Noah Haglund and Scott North Herald Writers
ARLINGTON — A onetime aide to Aaron Reardon, the former Snohomish County executive, will pay a $1,500 fine and serve five days on a Skagit County work crew for tampering with evidence during a criminal investigation.
Kevin Hulten received that sentence on Monday after pleading guilty to the gross misdemeanor.
If Hulten for some reason can’t serve on the work crew, Cascade District Court Judge Jay Wisman said he must return for a new sentencing hearing. Hulten also was ordered to pay nearly $2,000 in court costs and fees.
Wisman said Hulten’s behavior was “reprehensible.”
Hulten, 35, now lives in California. As part of a plea agreement he admitted that he downloaded a data-wiping program onto a county-owned laptop in March 2013.
That was evidence tampering because Hulten knew he was under investigation by King County detectives. They planned to examine the computer as part of an effort to determine whether he’d broken any laws in a shadowy effort that for months had targeted Reardon’s political rivals with records requests made using various aliases, spoof emails and Web hit pages.
The detectives recommended an evidence tampering charge.
A Snohomish woman at the hearing on Monday told Wisman that she was unhappy with the case’s outcome and that she believed Hulten should have faced a felony charge for destroying public records.
Skagit County’s work crew program allows inmates to serve their time picking up trash or performing other assignments that corrections officials believe will benefit the community, deputy prosecutor Paul Nielsen said. Unlike Snohomish County’s work-release program, Hulten won’t be required to sleep at the jail.
Skagit County prosecutors decided what to do with the case to help Snohomish County prosecutors avoid a conflict of interest.
“We can only prosecute the facts that we have, not assumptions or hurt feelings,” Skagit County deputy prosecutor Sloan Johnson said after the hearing.
In court papers, prosecutors said they were unable to determine what data Hulten deleted from the laptop. Forensic examination of other Snohomish County computers he used, however, yielded hundreds of records documenting years of political campaigning and digital mischief in support of Reardon. The activity started the day Hulten joined the office in January 2011. The county paid him about $60,000 to be Reardon’s legislative analyst.
Reardon weathered scandals during his nine years as executive, including a Washington State Patrol investigation into his use of public money while pursuing a years-long affair with a former county social worker.
Reardon announced his resignation a week after The Herald unmasked Hulten’s activities. He has since moved to California.
In his ruse, Hulten often used themes pulled from the classic revenge novel, “The Count of Monte Cristo.” He used the alias “Edmond Thomas” to suggest he worked for a company named after a famous street in France.
Most of the records “Edmond Thomas” sought were for people who had cooperated with the State Patrol investigation of Reardon. Using the pseudonym, Hulten threatened to sue the county if his demands weren’t met.
He initially denied involvement. His story then morphed to claims that he was a government whistleblower set on rooting out a supposed conspiracy against Reardon involving Herald investigative reporters and county prosecutors. The county spent nearly $35,000 on an independent attorney to investigate Hulten’s claims and determined they were baseless.
He resigned from his county job a few weeks before Reardon left. At the time, Hulten was in the process of being fired for using county computers to view and store pornography and sexually explicit images of himself and a girlfriend.
The materials were found as part of the investigation into Hulten’s “Edmond Thomas” activities. The same investigation turned up hundreds of records that had been earlier deleted, detailing political work Hulten did for Reardon while on the county’s time.
The information was partially scrubbed from county computers in 2011 after The Herald made several public records requests about the aide’s involvement in Reardon’s campaign for a third term as executive.
Reardon claimed he had no knowledge of Hulten’s campaign activities on county time, despite the aide’s work on his election website. Reardon also defended Hulten’s use of anonymous public records requests to harass people in other branches of county government.
Hulten and Reardon remain under investigation by the state Public Disclosure Commission for alleged misconduct during the 2011 campaign. The commission can levy fines for wrongdoing. It is unclear when that investigation will be complete.
Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; firstname.lastname@example.org.