Computer investigator pleads guilty to misrepresenting credentials
A Rye private investigator who has received $23,000 from the state since 2006 to do computer forensic investigations for indigent defendants pleaded guilty last week to misrepresenting some of her investigative certifications on her company’s website.
Judith Gosselin, owner and sole employee of J.A.G. & Co. in Hampton, claimed to be a “certified computer examiner” and to be trained as an ethical hacking forensic investigator when she wasn’t, according to court records.
Gosselin, who has worked for the state, federal public defender offices, and civil and criminal defense attorneys here and outside the state, avoided jail time in exchange for her guilty plea to a misdemeanor charge of unfair and deceptive business practices. She did receive a 12-month suspended jail sentence.
She was fined $2,000, ordered to reimburse the state’s indigent defense fund $3,500 for her work on a recent case and to “not ever accept any criminal case in the state of New Hampshire in any capacity,” according to her sentencing order.
A current count of Gosselin’s cases was not available last week. But while testifying for the defense in a criminal trial in Rockingham County in 2008, Gosselin said she had done 154 computer-related investigations, had been an expert witness in 36 cases and had testified in five trials on criminal and civil matters. She was then charging $254 an hour, according to her trial testimony. She has been doing computer investigations since 2000, according to her resume.
The state’s Judicial Council, which oversees the indigent defense fund and has paid Gosselin $23,000 for her work on 10 cases since 2006, is still investigating whether it will seek repayment in all cases. Executive Director Christopher Keating said it is a complicated situation because in each case, a judge ruled that Gosselin’s work on behalf of an indigent defendant qualified for payment by the state.
The federal public defender’s office has retained Gosselin in the past but has never called on her to testify, said federal public defender Bjorn Lange. That office did not have an accounting last week of what it has paid Gosselin.
Meanwhile, defense attorney Mark Sisti of Chichester, who paid Gosselin at least $10,000 for her computer forensic work on a 2008 child pornography case against a former high school gym teacher, said he may seek a new trial for his client given Gosselin’s admission to falsifying her credentials.
Planning to continue
Gosselin’s sentence does not prohibit her from continuing to do computer forensic investigations in civil cases or insurance and worker compensation cases, and she said in an interview Friday that she intends to continue that work. Her attorney, Dave Ruoff of Manchester, said Gosselin is trained, certified and qualified in a wide range of computer investigations regardless of the specifics of the charge against her.
That troubled Sisti. “How could you do anything?” he asked. “If you were a physician and you have been (found liable) in a malpractice case, would (they) say you can’t do abdominal surgery anymore but you can work on people’s arms or something?”
Gosselin’s deceptive advertising was discovered by Concord police detective Mark Dumas in 2012 while he was investigating a Peterborough child pornography case for the state’s Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, according to a police report. Gosselin had been hired by the defense in the case, and Dumas began questioning her credentials after he received her investigative report.
The case centered on whether child pornography images found on the computer of Michael Donnelly of Peterborough were downloaded by him or by someone else. Dumas concluded Donnelly had downloaded them; Gosselin disagreed.
In an interview Friday, Dumas, who holds a certification as a forensic computer examiner, said he became suspicious of Gosselin’s credentials because her conclusions in the case “didn’t make any sense” and were not backed up with an explanation of her reasoning.
“For an expert to make the statements she was making and not following up with a report explaining her position is unethical to me,” Dumas said.
Dumas began trying to confirm the credentials Gosselin claimed on her resume and her company’s website and discovered that she had not received five of the certifications she cited. They included some of the most widely recognized certifications in the industry, according to Dumas’s police report: Certified Computer Examiner and Certified Forensic Computer Examiner.
When Donnelly’s public defenders learned Gosselin’s credentials were under question, they replaced her with another computer expert. Donnelly was convicted in December on six counts of possessing child sexual abuse images and faces 10 to 27½ years in prison. Gosselin was paid $3,500 by the Judicial Council for her work on the case; her sentence requires she pay it back.
Dumas and the Manchester police continued the investigation into Gosselin.
“I have testified against examiners who are not certified but who have a long history in computer science,” Dumas said. “They never purported to be certified, they just had a lot of experience. And that’s never been an issue.
“But she chose to portray herself as a certified forensic examiner, and she chose to make statements that directly impacted criminal cases in the state of New Hampshire,” he continued. “That is an integrity issue. It’s deeply concerning to me that she would be in this business on a civil or criminal case.”
In June, the Hillsborough County attorney’s office indicted Gosselin on a felony count of falsifying physical evidence for allegedly providing an inaccurate resume in a criminal case; and two misdemeanor counts, one alleging unsworn falsification, the other alleging deceptive business practices.
In a negotiated plea deal, Gosselin pleaded guilty last week to the misdemeanor charge of deceptive business practices, and the other charges were dropped. The Hillsborough County prosecutor on the case, Nicole Thorspecken, could not be reached.
Gosselin and her attorney described the police investigation as shoddy and personally motivated. They also complained that neither Dumas nor other detectives tried to interview Gosselin before charging her.
Gosselin said she is a target of various police departments across the state because she has tried to report cases of child sexual abuse against men who are close to police chiefs. She said she has had a brick thrown through her window by an ex-police officer.
“It’s pretty sexist and definitely an old boys thing,” she said of the computer forensics field and the investigation of her. She also said, “What I’ve learned is that you can’t trust the police and that is unfortunately what’s going on here.”
When asked about the suspect credentials listed on her resume and website, Gosselin and Ruoff said they were meant to describe the nature of the work Gosselin does, not to suggest that she had received a particular certificate from a particular organization. And some credentials, such as the one claiming Gosselin was trained in ethical hacking, meant that she had a “teaming agreement” with other computer experts who could do that kind of work on a case she took.
But Gosselin also questioned Dumas’s ability to accurately investigate her credentials. Dumas used Gosselin’s maiden and married names when asking certifying organizations whether Gosselin had gone through their programs. Gosselin said he would have needed to use her business name, not only her own name.
Gosselin said she has taken her website down so she could “totally redo it.”
When asked why she pleaded guilty, Gosselin cited two reasons: she said she could not afford the expense of a trial and she said she believed only two jurors would have had to find her guilty to convict her. When questioned about her understanding of the jury process, Gosselin insisted that she believed two guilty votes from a jury – not all 12 – would be enough to convict her. She also said she sees her conviction as temporary.
“And in three years I can have (the misdemeanor conviction) expunged,” from the record, Gosselin said.
(Annmarie Timmins can be reached at 369-3323 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @annmarietimmins.)