A Russian hacker who claims to have broken into the personal computer of a Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office investigator named Mark Lewis did have access to Lewis’s email account at one point, an email released to Gawker this week shows. The hacker, who goes only by the pseudonym BadWolf, previously claimed to have obtained a document from Lewis’s computer that seemed to implicate Lewis and the PBSO in the surveillance of local journalists.
Last month, Gawker published an investigation into alleged corruption at the PBSO, based in part on a text document that BadWolf supposedly hacked from Lewis’s computer. The document was titled “Reporter Sabotage Campaign,” and it contained what appeared to be logs of Lewis conducting detailed surveillance against Lawrence Mower and Katie La Grone, two Palm Beach journalists who had given critical coverage to shootings of civilians by PBSO deputies.
The story contained many seemingly corroborative details, but one central question remains without a definitive answer: Did the PBSO, and Mark Lewis specifically, conduct surveillance of Palm Beach journalists? One of the supposedly surveilled reporters was unsure about the allegation, and the other did not wish to speak on the record at all. The PBSO declined to comment, citing an ongoing investigation. The closest thing to smoking-gun evidence was the Reporter Sabotage Campaign document, which could have easily been forged by BadWolf or someone else.
An email released by the PBSO Thursday in response to a public records request from Gawker for communications between Lewis and two top PBSO officials supports BadWolf’s claim that he gained access to Lewis’s accounts. Sent from Lewis’s personal Yahoo account to Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw, Chief Deputy Michael Gauger, and several other PBSO employees and reporters on September 15, 2015, it begins:
Greetings! I am Russian hacker BadVolf. I can not write my name in Russian because smap filters will probably send the emails to junk. I send this email from the hacked email account of Detective Kenneth Mark Lewis of the Palm Beach County Sheriff Office.
The remaining messages released to Gawker, a dozen in all, were procedural and innocuous.
BadWolf’s message from Lewis’s email address does not verify the authenticity of the Reporter Sabotage Campaign document, but it does confirm that the hacker had access to Lewis’s account, from which the document could conceivably have been pulled. BadWolf also claimed in the email to have hacked the accounts of Bradshaw, Gauger, and others at the PBSO—claims he never repeated to me in our weeks of conversations leading up to the story—and to have found evidence of a “very big criminal enterprise” at PBSO.
Lewis and a PBSO spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment on the hacked email or the veracity of the Reporter Sabotage Campaign document.
Gawker previously reported on a number of other questionable goings-on at the sheriff’s office. Two candidates for sheriff said they were followed by PBSO helicopters while campaigning against Bradshaw in two separate elections. A PBSO deputy seemed to admit, on tape, that Lewis “went after Channel 5,” the TV network that employs one of the allegedly surveilled journalists, and that “Any time anybody fucking goes after Ric, he puts Mark Lewis on him, to try to get shit on them.” Lewis himself admitted to racism and to “picking...apart” the lives of PBSO critics on recorded catfishing phone calls orchestrated by BadWolf.
Days before Gawker published the original story, the PBSO and FBI each executed a search warrant on the home of Mark Dougan, an ex-PBSO deputy who is an associate of BadWolf’s. Dougan is the founder of PBSOTalk.com, a website where BadWolf published the hacked personal information of thousands of law enforcement officers and others living in Palm Beach and Miami-Dade Counties. Since the publication of the story, GoDaddy has shuttered PBSOTalk after a request from the State Attorney’s Office in nearby Broward County, and Dougan has traveled to Moscow, where he says he is seeking political asylum.
Reached by phone in Moscow Friday, Dougan said that he left the United States because he feared that he would be arrested here, either by the FBI or the PBSO.
His fear may be warranted, at least as far as the PBSO is concerned. On another recorded phone call, Lewis can be heard discussing a “creepy guy” who “picks on” the PBSO and “attacks the sheriff.” Dougan believes Lewis is referencing him on the call, and considering his highly public clashes with the sheriff’s office, this does not seem like a wholly unreasonable suspicion. “When he gets arrested, what jail do you think he’s going to?” Lewis asks on the call. “He’s going to ours.”
Lewis then jokes that this unnamed man could be placed in a cell with “the big, big, huge, black pedophile guy.” “Remember me telling you this guy is little?” he continues. “Yeah, he’s going to be somebody’s girlfriend.”