Lawsuit: Fort Worth lost $515,000 to hackers, worker info was compromised in breach

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A whistleblower lawsuit filed by a fired IT manager claims that hackers stole $515,000 from the city of Fort Worth, and he was fired after reporting other security breaches to authorities.

The lawsuit was filed by William Birchett, who was a Senior Information Technology Solutions (ITS) Manager for the city of Fort Worth starting in May 2017.

He is seeking a jury trial and "monetary relief" of more than $1 million.

Attorney Stephen Kennedy shed light on the 60-page lawsuit against the city of Fort Worth filed Wednesday on behalf of Birchett.

 “Almost instantaneously, he finds out the city is in 90% non-compliant with industry standards for cybersecurity,” Kennedy said.

Birchett claims he noticed “violations and deficiencies with respect to cybersecurity policies and compliance” just weeks after starting his job, and said the city was “90% non-compliant compared to industry standards.”

Birchett then helped investigate a “cybersecurity breach” in which Imperial Construction Group stole $500,000 of taxpayer money from the city because of “inadequate cybersecurity protections.”

In the lawsuit, Birchett reported that the city's employee benefit portal was unsecure in September 2018, and that sensitive worker information was exposed due to security flaws with the city's computer systems.

It is also alleged that the city did not “notify and disclose cybersecurity violations to all individuals whose data was actually or potentially compromised” while Birchett was working there.

Birchett also claims he was fired for blowing the whistle to the Texas Department of Public Safety by reporting violations of the Criminal Justice Information Act by the Fort Worth Police Department.

“I think it’s fair to say he was disturbed, and he saw he had a lot of work to do,” Kennedy said.

Birchett claims he took his findings to his supervisors with a proposal to fix the problems, but he was rejected because a fix would have required “public disclosure of the deficiencies.”

“They didn’t want this information out,” Kennedy said. “They didn’t want to go to the city council and ask for more than the $1million needed to solve the problem.”

He was first placed on administrative leave, and later fired less than 90 days after making his "whistleblower reports," which the lawsuit claims are both violations of the Texas Whistleblower Act.

“The city takes data security very seriously,” said Asst. City Manager Susan Alanis on Birchett’s termination. “He was hired to fill that role. He was not performing effectively in that role, so he was terminated.”

And while Alanis won't give detailed comments on the pending litigation, she says many of the claims Kennedy has made in the lawsuit are unfounded, especially the claim that he was fired for being a whistleblower.

“No, I don’t think there is any validity to that,” she said.

As far as missing city money, the city says it was a victim of fraud in 2017 when a vendor payment was redirected to the wrong party/person/bad actor due to human error.

Kennedy says his top priority is correcting the city’s mischaracterization of his client.

A similar sentiment was also coming from city hall.

“I do not anticipate that we’ll settle this,” Alanis said. “And I anticipate that we’ll vigorously defend ourselves.”