Two Seattle men are awaiting trial, accused of stealing more than three-quarters of a million dollars in computer and electronics equipment from Eastside businesses by breaking into emergency-access key boxes.
Authorities say the rash of burglaries is linked to a larger investigation of computer hacking, identity theft and fraud.
The King County Prosecutor’s Office says Brad E. Lowe, 36, and Joshuah A. Witt, 34, stole servers, computers and electronics equipment from nine businesses in Woodinville, Redmond, Kirkland and Bellevue.
Investigators say the pair broke into so-called “Knox boxes” mounted outside the businesses. The boxes, required by many city fire codes, contain keys or access cards for firefighters to quickly enter buildings in emergencies.
Sometimes, the thieves stole the boxes themselves by taking them off the buildings and then breaking them open, according to charging documents. Video surveillance cameras at some of the sites captured two men using keys or access cards to let themselves into the buildings and stealing equipment, according to court documents.
Businesses lost more than $750,000 in the break-ins, which date back at least to early 2010, charging documents say.
Lowe is charged with six counts of second-degree burglary and has pleaded not guilty. He was released in February on $25,000 bail.
Witt is charged with seven counts of second-degree burglary and has pleaded not guilty. He is being held without bail.
“The defendants are prolific and sophisticated burglars who target large businesses to steal computer servers containing large databases of people’s personal information,” prosecutors wrote in an earlier request to set bail at $250,000 for each man. “It is calculated they have stolen equipment worth over $750,000 during their crime spree. These burglaries were not isolated incidents. The defendants are suspected of having committed burglaries during a period of at least nine months.”
No trial date has been set. Their next hearing is set for June 29. Lawyers for Lowe and Witt did not return phone calls seeking comment.
Local high-tech businesses hit
Concur Technologies in Redmond was among the hardest hit. The publicly traded company, at 18400 Union Hill Road, provides travel and expense management services for businesses. According to a court document with a statement from a Redmond police detective, the company lost $289,000 in servers and other equipment in a break-in Nov. 27-28.
Concur Executive Vice President Scott Torrey told police at the time that he was concerned that the thieves seemed interested mainly in stealing data files rather than the equipment itself. Eight servers were stolen, some containing six years of employee and customer email exchanges, Torrey told police. “The suspects could have the ability to access personal information of the company’s employees and customers as well as proprietary information concerning the operation of the business,” according to the document.
In a statement emailed to Patch, the company said that some of the stolen equipment included personal employee information, but there was no evidence that any of the data had been accessed or misused.
“None of the missing equipment is associated with Concur's financial systems or its production and transaction services infrastructure used by its customers, which is located in a secure hosting facility off-site,” the statement said.
“The company has taken a number of actions to protect the employees impacted by the theft including contracting with a company to provide employees with fraud resolution assistance, credit monitoring, educational information, and other related services.”
Woodinville-based Loud Technologies, 16220 Woodinville-Redmond Road, was also hit hard, reporting about $500,000 in high-end music and computer equipment stolen Nov. 15, including servers with trade secrets on them.
Also hit in Woodinville:
•Dynon Avionics, 19825 141st Place N.E., on June 9 and Nov. 4.
•BDA, an advertising firm, 15525 N.E. Woodinville Duvall Road, Nov. 22.
•, BizXchange, Blinkx and , all located in the same Eastgate building at 3600 136th Place S.E., June 13-14. All had computer equipment stolen; BizXchange also had gift cards for various businesses stolen.
•Intava Corp. and Mind Tree, both in the same building at 2375 130th Ave. N.E., Dec. 3-5.
•Alaska Structures, 5808 Lake Washington Blvd., March 2010. A replacement Knox box with new keys was stolen in December.
•WB Games Inc., 12131 113th Ave. N.E., Nov. 17.
•Sign Up Digital, 733 Kirkland Ave. N.E., Dec. 4.
Bellevue police also detailed similar break-ins at other businesses, including Sony On-line Entertainment, but the men were not charged in those thefts.
Seattle Police detective Chris Hansen, who serves on a federal Secret Service Electronic Crimes Task Force, described part of the suspected operation in an affidavit to support seizing a car last month.
Hansen had been investigating a series of computer network intrusions of small and medium-sized businesses around Puget Sound. The investigation found that suspects were believed to be driving around the region using a car with mobile hacking tools to get into businesses’ wireless networks and steal data for identity theft and fraud, techniques called “wardriving” and “piggybacking.”
A 35-year-old man who knew Witt and Lowe tried to use a stolen gift card at The Local Vine in Seattle in October, according to the affidavit.
The Capitol Hill wine bar notified Bellevue and Seattle police, and they questioned the man, who at first said he bought the cards on craigslist but then said he knew they were stolen but couldn’t talk about it.
While police were at the bar, they impounded the man’s car, a 1988 Mercedes. When they later searched it, they found a laptop, a mount to hold a laptop stand for use while driving, and other equipment that could be used for mobile computer hacking. The car’s owner has not been charged in the case. Patch does not typically name suspects until they have been charged.
In December 2010, searches of several residences and storage lockers in Seattle turned up some of the equipment stolen in the Eastside burglaries.