Mesa County deputy clerk charged with burglary and cybercrime

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Mesa County Clerk and Recorder on Aug. 12, 2021 (KREX)

MESA COUNTY, Colo. (KDVR) — A Mesa County deputy clerk faces charges of burglary and cybercrime after she accessed a secure county workspace while suspended from her job and tried to print something from the computer of Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters.

Belinda Knisley, 66, surrendered Wednesday to the 21st Judicial District Court and faces counts of second-degree burglary, a Class 4 felony, and cybercrime, a Class 2 misdemeanor. She was released on a $2,000 personal recognizance bond and ordered not to contact the Mesa County Clerk’s Office or its employees.

Mesa County employee Belinda Knisley, 66, surrendered to law enforcement on Sept. 1, 2021, on counts of second-degree buglary and cybercrime. (Credit: 21st Judicial District Attorney’s Office)

“The charges stem from conduct as a county employee after being placed on paid administrative leave due to a confidential personnel matter,” according to the 21st Judicial District Attorney’s office. “These charges are separate from the District Attorney’s Office’s ongoing investigation into criminal activity surrounding the security breach of Mesa County voting equipment.”

Knisley was suspended from her job on Aug. 23 and told to stay away from the workplace, but county officials found her on the premises two days later, apparently trying to print something from Peters’ computer.

As of Wednesday, Peters has not been seen at her workplace since Aug. 9, when the Colorado Secretary of State’s office announced secure county election information had been compromised.

Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters’ work computer was seized on Aug. 25

Knisley was suspended as a Mesa County employee on Aug. 23 because of “numerous complaints from multiple sources that [she] engaged in inappropriate, unprofessional conduct in the workplace,” according to her arrest affidavit.

Knisley was placed on leave with pay pending a final decision on her case and escorted off the premises. Her county computer access was disabled and she was told not to visit the workplace or do any work for Mesa County.

Despite those restrictions, Knisley was spotted in a secured work area in the Mesa County Motor Vehicle office two days after her suspension, according to the affidavit.

The incident that day, as detailed in the affidavit, started with a morning email from Peters’ work account asking information technology staff for help with printing. Printing in the county workplace requires a unique password or access badge.

When an IT employee went to Peters’ office in response to the request, she wasn’t in there. IT got another email from Peters’ account requesting the print pin be sent over email, which IT said it was not allowed to do, per policy.

Around noon, Mesa County Administrator Peter Baier got word that Knisley was in the building. Baier and the county’s human services director responded and found Knisley in the secure work area with another person, instructing them to “print” something off of the computer.

Baier told them not to print anything and asked Knisley to talk somewhere else.

“Knisley agreed and led Baier toward her former office … but then ultimately walked into Peters’ office instead of her own,” the affidavit said.

Peters wasn’t in there, but Baier noticed an email application open on her monitors.

Logs showed attempt to print something from Peters’ computer

Baier told Knisley to leave or he would call the police, so she called her attorney, who ultimately advised her to leave the property. Knisley handed someone a set of keys and was escorted off the property.

By that afternoon around 5 p.m., the district attorney’s office got a warrant to get Peters’ work computer and monitors from her office.

The logs on Peters’ computer confirmed that her credentials were used to log into it that morning, and the physical “YubiKey” hardware device — which must be plugged into the computer for two-factor authentication — was used, as well.

“Based on this, it appeared Knisley was using Peters’ Mesa County work station to access the secure Mesa County computer network while she was in Peters’ office” earlier that day, according to the affidavit.

The logs also showed that during that session, items were sent to the print server but weren’t printed because of “an absence of a ‘print pin’ or badge access authorization.”

“What those items were was not immediately clear and remains under investigation,” according to the affidavit.

The investigator wrote that “there is no known information” on whether Peters has been back to her Mesa County office since around Aug. 9.

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