Preemptive Strike on Employer's Data Files Backfires

January 25, 2008 ( - Steve Hutchins, owner of Steven E. Hutchins Architects of Jacksonville, Florida, got a nasty surprise when he got to work on Monday.

According to the Florida Times-Union, Hutchins found the computers had been tampered with and seven years’ worth of electronic architectural drawings deleted – some $2.5 million worth. There were no signs of forced entry, so he called his alarm company. They were able to tell him that someone had entered the premises about 11 p.m. the previous night, disarmed the alarm, and left about 3 a.m., resetting the alarm.

Turns out that one Marie Lupe Cooley, 41, Hutchins’ administrative assistant had seen a help-wanted ad in the newspaper the prior Friday for a position that looked suspiciously like her current job, including her boss’ phone number and email address. She assumed she was about to be fired – called in sick to work that Friday.

On Saturday she contacted Hutchins’ wife, who had placed the ad seeking an assistant for her business. And though Mrs. Hutchins tried to persuade Marie that the job listing was not for HER position…well, you now know the rest.

She was arrested Monday evening and charged with causing greater than $1,000 damage to computer files, a felony. Oh, and perhaps needless to say, she is no longer employed at the firm.

According to, Hutchins told one TV station he’d managed to recover all the files using a data-recovery service.