Two FBI workers are accused of using surveillance equipment to spy on teenage girls as they undressed and tried on prom gowns at a charity event at a West Virginia mall.
The FBI employees have been charged with conspiracy and committing criminal invasion of privacy. They were working in an FBI satellite control room at the mall when they positioned a camera on temporary changing rooms and zoomed in for at least 90 minutes on girls dressing for the Cinderella Project fashion show, Marion County Prosecutor Pat Wilson said Monday.
Gary Sutton Jr., 40, of New Milton and Charles Hommema of Buckhannon have been charged with the misdemeanors and face fines and up to a year in jail on each charge if convicted. Sutton has been released on bond, Wilson said, and Hommema is to be arraigned later this week. Wilson did not know Hommema’s age.
The workers were described in a complaint as “police officers,” but prosecutors did not say whether the men were agents or describe what kind of work they did.
The Cinderella Project at the Middletown Mall in the north-central West Virginia town of Fairmont drew hundreds of girls from 10 high schools in five counties. Organizer Cynthia Woodyard said volunteers, donors and participants are angry.
“I can’t even begin to put words around what I consider an unspeakable act, the misuse of surveillance by a branch of our government in a place we felt so secure,” she said. “Never in a million years would we have thought something like this would happen. We’re in shock.”
Hospice Care Corp. was sponsoring the event, offering prom dresses, shoes and accessories to girls who could not otherwise afford them. Dresses sold for as little as $5.
Woodyard, director of marketing for Hospice Care, said this year’s event was the biggest in the decade the organization has been holding it, with more than 800 dresses on display.
The prosecutor would not say how authorities found out about the accusations.
It was not immediately clear if the accused men had attorneys. Messages left at phone listings for Gary Sutton were not immediately returned; there was no listing for Hommema.
The FBI issued a brief statement, but refused to answer questions. The statement said the Office of Inspector General was investigating.
“The FBI is committed to the timely and full resolution of this matter, but must remain sensitive to the privacy concerns of any potential victims and their families,” the statement said.
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