Nguyen Le was looking at a long and promising career in Hennepin County's Information Technology department, promoted to manager a few years after being hired.
His new duties included ordering computer equipment, including switches that connect devices to computers. Each switch could cost the county up to $15,000.
For nearly a decade after his promotion, Le stole the switches and sold them to a company in Oklahoma, according to charges recently filed against him. He made $4 million and cost the county hundreds of thousands of dollars in losses.
He also duped the county in another way, fixing the timecard of his girlfriend Samantha Marks, the charges say. He didn't follow personnel procedures when he hired her, and as her supervisor, he approved hundreds of hours when she rarely showed up in the office. The day she gave birth to their child, he marked her timecard as being at work.
The couple, who live together in Columbus, made their first court appearances last week. Both were charged with theft by swindle and aren't in custody. They were fired by the county in February 2020.
The county said as soon as it became aware of possible criminal behavior, it referred the case to law enforcement. The allegations detailed in the criminal complaint are simply outrageous and an absolute betrayal, said county spokeswoman Carolyn Marinan. If the defendants are found guilty, the county will ask for restitution, she said.
In addition to referring the matter for criminal investigation, the IT department immediately took action to review its policies and procedures to ensure additional controls were put in place to reduce risk, she said. Those actions included enhancing security and organization of network equipment in storage, conducting a third-party audit and inventory of network equipment, improving equipment lifecycle management from procurement to disposal including separation of duties, and accounting practices and tightening controls around physical access, she said.
Marinan added the county believes it now has appropriate controls in place to mitigate the risk of this type of theft. The county continually reviews controls and protocols across the entire organization through enterprise risk management and auditing functions, she said.
According to the criminal complaints against Le and Marks:
Le, 41, was hired by the county in 2006 and the equipment thefts started six years later. Marks, 37, was hired in 2016 as a member of the "voice team" that helped handle issues with telephones. Le was her direct supervisor.
In 2020, the county's internal investigation into Le's alleged timecard fixing led to the discovery of video footage of him loading stolen computer equipment into his vehicle. In that year alone, he was caught taking 33 switches and other equipment, sometimes with the help of Marks.
Le was responsible for ordering switches, but not working hands-on with them. His subpoenaed financial records showed frequent money transfers from a PayPal account to a local credit union, often in the amount between $6,000 and $10,000. Over eight years, he made nearly $4 million.
Investigators interviewed two people linked to the Oklahoma companies and learned they were involved in reselling electronic equipment. They confirmed that most of the equipment bought from Le was new.
Le denied that he sold county equipment. He said it wouldn't be unusual for him to take equipment home to "restore them" or "get them ready." He immediately closed his PayPal accounts after speaking to investigators.
The employee who took over Le's job said he never worked hands-on with equipment, asset management was a mess, and inventory wasn't being tracked and monitored.
Le's timecard fraud for Marks appeared to start as soon as she was hired, charges said. During her four years of employment, she didn't use one hour of paid time off. Her access card to enter secured areas of the government showed she only used it twice during a year-long period.
Records showed Marks rarely sent or read emails. During a six-month period, she only used her county mobile telephone for five minutes and often used it for noncounty calls. During her four years of employment, Marks received pay for more than 7,000 hours of work at a rate of $40 or higher, totaling more than $280,000 plus benefits.
Efforts to reach Le and Marks were unsuccessful.