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Former Ellsworth County water plant worker charged with tampering

By: - October 22, 2021 9:09 am
with the computer system in 2019 at a drinking water treatment facility in Ellsworth County. The recommendation is the former employee of the water plant serve one year in jail. (Getty Images)

The Environmental Working Group released its latest database of drinking water quality information. (Getty Images)

TOPEKA — A central Kansas man agreed to plead guilty in U.S. District Court to illegally using a computer to tamper with an Ellsworth County rural water district treatment facility about two months after quitting his job at the plant.

An investigation by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Kansas Bureau of Investigation led to Wyatt Travnichek, 23, of Lorraine in Ellsworth County.

He agreed to guilty pleas to single counts of reckless damage to a computer system and tampering with a public water supply. In March 2019, he used a remote login network to shut down the Post Rock Rural Water District plant and to turn off one of its water filters. He had left his job at the plant in January 2019.

“Protecting America’s drinking water is a top EPA priority,” said Lance Ehrig, special agent in charge of the EPA’s criminal investigation division in Kansas. “EPA will continue our focused efforts with Department of Justice and the states as we investigate and pursue any threats that might be directed toward vital community drinking water resources.”

Travnichek was hired at the Post Rock plant in January 2018. He was given authority to monitor the facility with a remote computer login system. Despite no longer working at the plant, he accessed the network March 27, 2019, to disrupt the water treatment process.

Travnichek told investigators he was intoxicated that night and didn’t recall intruding at the plant, federal prosecutors said Thursday in a statement. Agents determined Travnichek’s cellphone was used to control the plant’s equipment and the same phone was in the defendant’s possession during the crime.

FBI special agent in charge Charles Dayoub said the agency considered security of cyber infrastructure a high priorities.

“There is no doubt that Travnichek’s intentional actions directly placed the public in harm’s way,” Dayoub said. “The plea should send a clear message to anyone who attempts to tamper with public facilities.”

The recommended prison sentence was 12 months and one day, but the decision will fall to a federal district court judge.

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Tim Carpenter
Tim Carpenter

Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International. He has been recognized for investigative reporting on Kansas government and politics. He won the Kansas Press Association's Victor Murdock Award six times. The William Allen White Foundation honored him four times with its Burton Marvin News Enterprise Award. The Kansas City Press Club twice presented him its Journalist of the Year Award and more recently its Lifetime Achievement Award. He earned an agriculture degree at Kansas State University and grew up on a small dairy and beef cattle farm in Missouri. He is an amateur woodworker and drives Studebaker cars.

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