A former FBI agent pleaded guilty Wednesday in an Arkansas Western District Court as part of a plea bargain.
Prosecutors allege agent Robert Cessario acted to alter, destroy and mutilate a computer’s hard drive with intent to impair its integrity and availability for use in an official proceeding. Cessario admitted in his plea agreement that he erased a computer’s hard drive that was evidence in a federal case against former state Sen. Jon Woods of Springdale and associates.
Cessario erased a laptop he used to gather and send electronic files to defense attorneys in several cases, according to a Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette report. The agent paid professionals to wipe the hard drive, and then he wiped it again himself. After destroying the laptop’s contents, Cessario gave it to investigators because defense attorneys demanded it after they discovered he had not transferred all the files to them during discovery.
“I erased the contents of the computer hard drive, knowing that the court has ordered that the computer be submitted for a forensic examination,” the agent declared in his plea bargain, according to a Conservative Brief report. “I did so with the intention of making the contents of the computer’s hard unavailable for forensic examination.”
When confronted in 2018, he claimed he wiped the laptop’s hard drive because he had installed medical records on it that he did not want disclosed.
Presiding U.S. District Judge Timothy L. Brooks and the U.S. attorney’s office did not believe Cessario’s stated reason for erasing the files.
“No, your honor,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Aaron Jennen replied when Brooks asked him in another hearing February 15, 2018, if Cessario’s reasoning sounded credible. “That reason sounds like burning down a house because you don’t like the drapes.”
Wednesday, the former FBI agent was charged with one felony count of corrupt destruction of an object in an official proceeding. After waiving indictment, he accepted a plea deal from prosecutors.
The felony he pleaded guilty to carries a maximum penalty of 20 years imprisonment, $250,000 in fines and three years post-release probation. Sentencing in federal cases typically take months and usually follows established sentencing guidelines.
The amount of probation handed down by the sentencing judge will depend on Cessario demonstrating an acceptance of responsibility, according to the Democrat-Gazette report.