WESTMINSTER, Colo. — Two men working for a Colorado security company were arrested and charged with breaking into a county courthouse in Iowa.
The catch: the state of Iowa paid them to do it.
Coalfire is based in Westminster. The security company specializes in identifying security weaknesses for both private and public sector organizations.
Employees at Coalfire are paid to hack into computer systems and occasionally gain access to buildings to try to highlight and improve vulnerabilities.
“This is a very common thing that government agencies do to protect their organization,” said Tom McAndrew, the CEO of Coalfire. “We’re doing these every day, every week, all the time, all throughout the country.”
However, two of Coalfire’s employees are now accused of being actual criminals. They were arrested after breaking into the Dallas County Courthouse in Iowa, even though the Iowa Judicial Branch hired them to do it.
“I think when a common individual looks at this, you’d look at this and say this is insane. To be honest, it’s totally absurd what’s going on,” McAndrew said.
Coalfire believes it is caught in a situation in which the company is being used to escalate a political agenda.
The Iowa Judicial Branch signed a contract with Coalfire to conduct the operation, but didn’t notify Dallas County, which owns the courthouse.
“It was unclear the jurisdiction between the county courthouses and the state and I think that’s where there was some confusion,” McAndrew said.
The two Coalfire employees slipped into the courthouse sometime after midnight through an unlocked door and eventually tripped a security alarm. They calmly waited for authorities to arrive to provide documentation.
“It’s not common that they’re caught, but it’s expected. That’s why we have a ‘get out of jail free card’ because, you know, it may happen and you want to have the procedures to help get them out,” said McAndrew.
However, the Dallas County Sheriff wasn’t amused. Coalfire employees Justin Wynn and Gary Demercurio where arrested and charged with third-degree burglary.
Tom Bisignano is a state senator from Iowa. He’s outraged the state’s judicial branch would pay a company to break into a county building. However, he admits Coalfire is now stuck in the middle of a political dispute.
“This was strictly a misstep by the court administration. I don’t think the company really had anything to do with the inappropriateness with what happened. At first you question, who are these guys? I now look back and yes, they were victims of circumstance,” Bisignano said.
However, Bisignano believes the employees from Coalfire should still face charges of some kind.
“What becomes the issue is: can I contract with you to break the law?” he said.
The charges against Wynn and Demercurio have since been downgraded to misdemeanor trespassing, but Coalfire’s CEO says even that isn’t right.
“It’s not a win at all. These individuals still have criminal records. They’ve got their mugshots out there. This can impact their ability to get future jobs and get clearance,” McAndrew said.
The two men have pleaded not guilty to the misdemeanor trespassing charge and have requested a jury trial.
FOX31 reached out to the Dallas County Sheriff for comment. Our calls were not returned.
As for the Iowa Court Administration, they confirm they hired Coalfire to try to access court records, but say that didn’t include forced entry into the building.