Reardon aide Hulten quits after porn found on laptop

EVERETT — A legislative aide who has been a regular source of controversy during his two years working for Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon is no longer on the county payroll.

Kevin Hulten, 34, of Granite Falls, resigned Thursday, writing that he believed he would be fired after sexually explicit images, including his homemade porn, were found on a government laptop computer he’d used in 2011.

Hulten emailed a written resignation about 20 minutes before the start of a hearing he had requested to challenge the allegations, Deputy Executive Gary Haakenson said.

“To be clear, I strenuously object to the county’s proposed personnel findings, but I feel that I have no chance of affecting this process internally,” Hulten wrote.

He denied any wrongdoing and claimed to be the victim of retaliation for a “whistleblower” complaint he brought against prosecutors.

A Seattle attorney hired by the county spent weeks investigating Hulten’s “whislteblower” allegations and determined they were baseless, and his claims of retaliation unsupported by fact.

Hulten had been on paid administrative leave since March 1, when he became the focus of a King County Sheriff’s Office criminal investigation into a series of records requests the Reardon aide has admitted to making under the alias “Edmond Thomas.” The Snohomish County Council requested the investigation to determine whether Hulten and another Reardon aide, Jon Rudicil, violated any laws by conduct that some on the receiving end characterized as harassment and apparent attempts at surveillance.

The “Edmond Thomas” activity targeted about 20 county employees, many of whom had cooperated in a Washington State Patrol investigation of Reardon’s use of public money during out-of-town business trips he made with a former mistress. Intimidating witnesses is a crime.

Hulten also is the focus of an investigation ordered in April by the executive director of the Public Disclosure Commission, the state’s election watchdog agency.

The state since last year has been investigating whether public resources were improperly used in Reardon’s 2011 re-election campaign. The new investigation, initiated by commission staff, raises questions about phone calls that Hulten made to state election watchdogs in spring 2011. The calls focused on issues later raised by associates of Hulten’s who attacked Reardon’s then-election opponent, state Rep. Mike Hope, R-Lake Stevens.

Hulten made the calls during business hours and may have violated state law that prohibits “using the facilities of a public office or agency to assist a candidate’s campaign,” the complaint from Andrea McNamara Doyle said.

The facts “provide reason to believe that Kevin Hulten, while employed by the Snohomish County Executive’s office, used Snohomish County facilities for the purpose of assisting the 2011 re-election campaign of Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon,” she wrote.

The Herald last year raised questions about the same phone calls in a report that detailed Hulten’s efforts in support of Reardon’s campaign. The aide refused to be interviewed for that story, but through Haakenson said the calls were made on his personal cell phone and were not a problem because they were placed during his breaks or lunch.

As an exempt employee with no fixed schedule, Hulten was allowed great leeway in deciding when he was on or off the clock.

In his resignation this week, Hulten denied any wrongdoing and said that the county had failed to show that he’d even been assigned the hard drive where the nude images of him and a former girlfriend turned up.

“I refute all of the allegations and respond by simply pointing out that there is no proof that I did anything at all,” he wrote. “In fact, all of the computers that were actually issued to me were found to be clear of any violation.”

An April 19 report prepared by Bridget Clawson, the county’s human resources director, tells a different story.

The images were discovered in March while the county was securing evidence for sheriff’s detectives and responding to questions raised about a longstanding records request involving Hulten, the report says.

It is a violation of county policy to use computers to create or store sexually explicit images. The county’s human resources director, working with tech staff, concluded the porn had been downloaded onto Hulten’s computer through “a series of deliberate steps.”

The images that prompted her investigation depicted Hulten and a woman from “a previous personal relationship.” They had been downloaded at the same time in 2011 as some football pictures. Hulten formerly had run a website and published a blog about the football team at his alma mater, Lake Stevens High School.

Hulten initially suggested the images from his iPhone wound up on the laptop’s hard drive by accident, Clawson’s report said. A county tech expert was able to rule out any automated process, such as synching information from a smartphone or other device.

Hulten also suggested that he may have been set up. For that to have happened, though, somebody would have had to go through a number of covert steps, the tech concluded. Those include obtaining copies of the sexually explicit pictures of Hulten and the woman, retrieving the laptop from a locked cabinet at the county, loading the images onto the hard drive in a way that created realistic time stamps, and then deleting the folders where they were stored, to make it appear somebody tried to avoid detection, the report said.

The tech was able to recreate how he believes the images wound up on the laptop, the report said. “In addition, he found more pornography and evidence Kevin Hulten searched for, downloaded and watched pornographic movies on his county-owned laptop,” Clawson wrote.

In his resignation letter, Hulten noted that his employment was likely to conclude at the end of the month. That’s when Reardon has said he intends to resign.

Spotted in the county administration building on Friday, Reardon again brushed off a request for an interview. “You are talking to me now,” he said, mentioning the good weather as he slipped behind a locked office door.

Haakenson said the next step for the county is to empty the office Hulten occupied since Reardon hired him in January 2011.

“Next week we will be going through all his property, boxing it up and he can come pick it up when he gets the call,” Haakenson said.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465, nhaglund@heraldnet.com

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