East Lansing CEO arrested for alleged mishandling of Los Angeles poll worker data

Police have arrested the chief executive of an East Lansing-based software company on suspicion of storing Los Angeles County, California, election workers' data — which his company was contracted to secure and maintain — on servers in China.

Eugene Yu is listed as founder and president on the Konnech website. The company partners with election administrators to provide software to manage logistics, according to its website. One Konnech program, PollChief, is an employee management system, through which administrators can recruit and train poll workers, as well as manage payroll and assign tasks. In doing so, the softwarerequires poll workers submit personal information.

Los Angeles County is a Konnech client, having utilized PollChief in the most recent election. Investigators found that personal information was being stored on servers in China, District Attorney George Gascón announced in a Tuesday press release.

The release didn't provide any additional details about the findings. But Gascón said the conduct had "no impact on the tabulation of votes and did not alter election results."

“Data breaches are an ongoing threat to our digital way of life. When we entrust a company to hold our confidential data, they must be willing and able to protect our personal identifying information from theft," Gascón said. "Otherwise, we are all victims."

Jon Goldberg, a spokesperson for Konnech, said company officials believe Yu has been wrongfully detained.

"Any L.A. County poll worker data that Konnech may have possessed was provided to it by L.A. County, and therefore could not have been 'stolen' as suggested," Goldberg said.

Yu was arrested Tuesday by L.A. county investigators, who were assisted by the Meridian Township Police Department, the release said. Court records show he was arraigned in 55th District Court Wednesday morning on a misdemeanor charge of fugitive from justice in connection with the theft of personal data. He is scheduled for a pretrial conference before Judge Donald Allen on Oct. 25.

Gascón's office is seeking to extradite him to Los Angeles. Yu, who's being represented by attorney Mark Kriger, was held on "no bond" pending his extradition hearing, court reporter and judicial assistant Barbara Pasch said in an email.

"His attorney is waiting to speak to a Judge about reducing bond," Pasch said.

According to the release, Konnech had a five-year, $2.9-million contract with Los Angeles County, under which it was supposed to maintain data and allow "only United States citizens and permanent residents (to) have access to it."

Konnech lists 32 North American clients on its website. It has been targeted by groups challenging the results of the 2020 presidential election, The New York Times reported Monday. With no evidence, election deniers have raised concerns about the company storing information in China, stirring up concerns about Chinese influence on U.S. elections. Company officials have denied any wrongdoing.

In September, Konnech sued one such group from Texas, True The Vote Inc., for making racist and false claims against them. Judge Kenneth Hoyt of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas granted the company a temporary restraining order against the group, which Konnech alleged committed defamation, caused financial damages and violated the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, among other alleged illegal conduct.

According to the lawsuit, True The Vote President Catherine Engelbrecht and board member Gregg Phillips claimed Konnech is run by "Chinese operatives" who are running a “Red Chinese communist op run against the United States," only on the basis that Yu and some employees are of Chinese descent.

"(Their) conduct is not only damaging to Konnech, it also deters other would-be election logistic companies from entering the market—or will cause other such companies to shutter — without which, elections would be unmanageable for cities and counties, leading to further election integrity issues," the complaint says.

Contact reporter Jared Weber at 517-582-3937 or jtweber@lsj.com.

This article originally appeared on Lansing State Journal: East Lansing CEO arrested in Los Angeles County data theft probe