On December 15, 2013, the Independent Gazette was notified by the Wilkes-Barre City Taxpayers Association (WBCTPA) that the group had received an email from Justin Bodnar, of Wilkes-Barre. That email contained several back-and-forth emails between Mayor Tom Leighton and other city officials and residents. The Bodnar email’s payload, as it were, appeared to have been obtained illegally, which led the taxpayers association to immediately notify the city administration, speaking with Police Chief Gerald Dessoye, who committed at that time to conducting an investigation into the release of the Leighton emails.
The WBCTPA was later contacted by the Scranton FBI, which requested that it turn over all emails relating to Tom Leighton and Wilkes-Barre City business. At that time the Gazette was asked not to publish any information relating to this case, as the newspaper now found itself in the midst of an FBI sting operation. That sting later took place by way of an exchange between an association member and Bodnar, 24, of Westminster Street.
The original email sent to the taxpayers association reads:
“I am a fan of your work dealing with the corruption in Wilkes-Barre, and deeply respect this work you are doing. I too am an investigator of sorts, and my work seems to have crossed paths with yours, hence this correspondence.
“I will get straight to the point; I have for sale access into an email account containing years worth of emails to and from Mayor Leighton. I feel this is something that may interest you in your hunt for evil. There are less then a half dozen potential buyers I’ve found, and you stand out amongst them as the most dedicated, and for that sole reason I am offering you the chance to purchase the access first. Find enclosed proof of access, specifically a correspondence between Leighton and one Liza Prokop concerning an email you sent her. As an added bonus I have also enclosed a separate correspondence between Leighton and one of his buddies, discussing how the Mayor will use his ‘pull’ to get his buddy’s daughter a free ride through medical school.
“If this interests you feel free to respond with an amount you feel comfortable with. I trust you as a man of god to be fair in this matter. Feel free to respond with any questions you may have. In 48 hours if there is no reply I will assume you are not interested and begin contacting other potential buyers. Until then only you, I and my associates know about this.
“I have access into quite a few related aspects of Luzerne County, Wilkes-Barre and Hawkeye in particular, so if this works out we can always discuss other options that may interest you.
“Thank you for your time”
After receiving the Bodnar email, an association member — at the direction of the FBI — met with Bodnar at the McDonald’s in Hanover Township, where Bodnar had agreed to exchange a CD containing Leighton’s emails for cash. After the exchange, federal agents moved in and took Bodnar into custody.
Frank Sorick, president of the taxpayers association, asked that the association member who was initially contacted by Bodnar not be identified by the Gazette, but did state that “if the emails were obtained illegally and we didn’t turn them over to the authorities, we would be just as guilty as the hacker. The goal of the association is to conduct lawful investigations into corruption, not to be corrupted by association.”
Following WBRE’s breaking story May 22 concerning an FBI investigation into city emails being hacked, the Gazette contacted Supervisory Special Agent Shawn Quinn, new head of the Scranton FBI office, seeking comment. Quinn said he has no knowledge of where WBRE received their news tip, and that he could not comment further, as the matter remains an ongoing investigation. The Gazette is currently in possession of several of the hacked emails in question, and is considering publishing them in a future edition of the paper. The electronic communications made via city accounts include content obviously not appropriate for city business.
Mayor Leighton did not respond to a Gazette telephone message by the time of this story’s online posting.