Police: Thousands in Higley equipment at home - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

Police: Thousands in Higley equipment at home

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Posted: Tuesday, December 22, 2009 6:23 pm | Updated: 1:09 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

Gilbert police who searched the home of a former Higley Unified School District information technology director found thousands of dollars in district equipment in use throughout Bradley Niesluchowski's house.

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The district items found in the home included a network switch worth $3,000 to $5,000, seven computers hooked up to a functioning work station and 10 additional computers not in use. District laptop computers, desktop monitors, a printer, wireless router, desk phone, a hard drive, Blackberry cell phone and credit cards also were initially confiscated from his Mesa home in the Sept. 25 search, according to a police report obtained Monday by the Tribune.

"In walking through the house, it was clear to me that Bradley (Niesluchowski) had taken Higley (Unified) School District property and was using it for personal use at his residence," wrote the officer in the report.

The items were discovered in Niesluchowski's home after Higley Superintendent Denise Birdwell called Gilbert police Sept. 17. Niesluchowski, 38, is accused of taking the school equipment to use in his home computer business, downloading pornography, not doing his job correctly and downloading unauthorized software throughout the district that searches for extraterrestrial intelligence.

Niesluchowski, who worked for Higley since Jan. 7, 2000, mainly as the information technology director, lost his job in October and is under police investigation.

Niesluchowski is initially facing three charges in the Gilbert police investigation, including charges of using public money for personal use, possession of lost and stolen property, and computer tampering in an educational facility. Because Higley officials wanted to press charges, Niesluchowski was arrested on Sept. 25 and taken to the police department for questioning, although "due to the complexity" of the case, he was released, according to the police report.

The police report shows that the SETI@home software, and the newer BOINC version, had been downloaded onto 9,500 computers under Niesluchowski's "NEZ" profile, the name he used in the research program and in his home business, NEZ Networks. The software is a scientific experiment that uses Internet-connected computers to analyze radio telescope data in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, which is what SETI stands for.

The software, which is typically downloaded onto a home computer, uses part of the computer's central processing unit power, disk space and network bandwidth. When the computer is idle, the software kicks into gear and uses the computer's power for its research.

SETI@home or BOINC had been downloaded onto about 5,000 Higley computers, said Birdwell. The police report also shows a "large number" of computers in the Globe Unified School District on a list provided to police from the SETI@home project. The list had computer names and IP addresses associated with the NEZ account.

Niesluchowski was paid $100,000 as an outside consultant for the work he did on the Globe school district's network, according to the police report.

A call left for comment from the Globe Unified School District was not returned Tuesday.

Niesluchowski has maintained his innocence. In an e-mail sent Dec. 3 to media and Higley board members, Niesluchowski said Birdwell has a "personal vendetta" against him. He urged the board members not to keep Birdwell on as superintendent. However, hours later, the board agreed to start negotiations with Birdwell to keep her in the district's top spot for an expected three more years.

Niesluchowski's attorney, C. David Martinez with Gunderson, Denton & Proffitt in Mesa, who also spoke at that school board meeting, did not return a call and e-mail to comment on this story.

In the police report, Niesluchowski said the district items he had at home were used for "testing" new computer updates and was required for him to do his district job. He said several of the computers were "old" and were being "cycled out." Niesluchowski also said some of the technology equipment, including the network switch found in a closet, and several computers, were "extra" items used as "spares" for when the technology broke down.

Birdwell has said Niesluchowski is only authorized to have a district laptop at home. Niesluchowski said past administrators knew he had this equipment. He said in the report that Birdwell did not know of the items he had at home because this was her first year as superintendent.

Niesluchowski admitted to police that he was using the district equipment for "personal reasons," according to the report.

In comparison, the Mesa Unified School District's director of information systems, who oversees the technology in the largest district in the state, uses a 5-year-old desktop computer and a cell phone to work from home, said district spokeswoman Kathy Bareiss. The Mesa school district has 26,000 computers in 87 schools, she said.

Mesa district administrators who have equipment at home also have to turn in the items every year to be tracked for inventory, Bareiss said.

As Higley's information technology director, Niesluchowski was responsible for buying and installing thousands of district computers and putting together Higley's computer network at all 10 district schools.

Computer labs in some of the district's newer schools were found to have the SETI program installed. And in some cases, labs that were not yet open to students were powered on and running, according to the report.

"Due to no student usage, the only function these computers were currently serving was running the SETI program," wrote the officer in the report.

In his e-mail, Niesluchowski said he disabled the SETI@home program "long ago" and "another employee inadvertently copied that program onto an image that was then copied onto other district computers." He also stressed in the e-mail that "the SETI program did not harm anyone or waste money."

However, Niesluchowski told police "he knew the program should not be on all of the computers districtwide because it would cause performance problems with the system." He also told police he does not run the SETI@home program on his home computers because it "decreases the performance of the computer it is running on."

A chief scientist with SETI@home has said the program only uses the spare computing cycle and the computer should not be left on solely for the SETI program. Birdwell has said the "shut down" option was removed from district computers and that the computers ran 24/7.

Birdwell said it will cost about $5,000 to remove the software, and an estimated $1.2 million to $1.6 million to replace stolen and burned-out items due to overuse, and fix all of the problems associated with Niesluchowski.

Birdwell said the SETI@home software bogged down the district's system, interfered with teachers' technology use in the classroom and used unnecessary electricity. To find out what the problem was, Higley officials hired five technology experts to investigate. One of the technology companies, Todotech, put together a districtwide technology audit that cost $15,000.

According to the report, Higley teachers had complained to the Arizona Education Association about the SETI@home and BOINC programs "causing computers in the classroom to run slow." Former superintendent Joyce Lutrey told Niesluchowski to remove the programs from district computers, according to the police report and Birdwell.

"Brad (Niesluchowski) never mentioned this during any of my contacts with him," wrote the officer in the report.

Niesluchowski has maintained he is not active in the SETI online community and that the "whole SETI concept is a smoke screen," he wrote in his e-mail. He also downplayed his involvement in the SETI program with police.

However, the police officer who interviewed Niesluchowski said he was "concerned with the credibility of his story."

"I explained that by just looking at the NEZ account information, it was clear he was still processing a lot of information, the most processed by any one single user in the United States," wrote the officer in the report.

"I explained it was also clear the amount of information being processed is currently increasing."

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