Man Admits to Water Supply Tampering

An Ellsworth County man has admitted to tampering with the computer system at a drinking water treatment facility in Ellsworth County.

According to the Department of Justice 23-year-old Wyatt Travnichek of Lorraine pleaded guilty to one count of tampering with a public water system and one count of reckless damage to a protected computer system during unauthorized access.

According to court documents, the Post Rock Rural Water District hired Travnichek in January 2018, and his duties included monitoring the plant after hours using a remote login system.

Travnichek resigned his position in January 2019.

On March 27, 2019, the remote log in system was used to shut down the plant and turn off one of its filters. Investigators established Travnichek’s cell phone was used to perpetrate the intrusion, and that the phone was in his possession at the time of the shutdown. He told investigators he was intoxicated and didn’t remember anything about the night of March 27, 2019.

The Environmental Protection Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Kansas Bureau of Investigation investigated the case.

“Ensuring the security of our nations cyber infrastructure is one of the FBI’s top priorities and the plea underscores the joint dedication to that effort by the FBI, EPA and the Kansas Bureau of Investigation. There is no doubt that Travnichek’s intentional actions directly placed the public in harm’s way. The plea should send a clear message to anyone who attempts to tamper with public facilities – law enforcement will remain resolute in investigating any and all threats that put the public’s health at risk,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Charles Dayoub.

“Protecting America’s drinking water is a top EPA priority,” said Special Agent in Charge Lance Ehrig of the EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division in Kansas. “EPA will continue our focused efforts with DOJ and the states as we investigate and pursue any threats that might be directed toward vital community drinking water resources.”

The parties recommend a prison sentence of 12 months and one day on counts one and two to run concurrently. However, a district court judge will determine a sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.