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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Identity thief used co-worker’s name to download child porn

Bill Morlin The Spokesman-Review
Eric and Robyn Zehm of Spokane are stunned that undercover detectives shadowed them for weeks. And they are mad that a former co-worker easily stole Eric Zehm’s identity, including his picture, and put it on a gay-related Web site. The thief, John Alan Harmon, also illegally downloaded and distributed child porn, using Eric Zehm’s name on several e-mail accounts. For that, Harmon is heading to prison, but the Zehms say they are still steamed. When the investigation began last year, two Washington State Patrol detectives started investigating the 28-year-old electrical parts salesman and his wife, who is 27. “They followed us to dinner, to our friends’ houses,” Robyn Zehm said. “They parked outside our home for hours on end. They even knew Eric went to a Trailblazers game in Portland.” The detectives - unaware Harmon was actually the culprit - showed up at Eric Zehm’s workplace in April and said they wanted to talk. “They asked me if I was into child porn and gay Web sites,” he said. “Honestly, I was really shocked.” The detectives told Zehm they were there to arrest him on child pornography charges. Zehm told detectives he had nothing to do with child porn or gay Internet sites. Then he told them about an incident at his previous workplace, North Coast Electric in East Spokane, about two years ago. While working there with Harmon in 2001, Zehm said he mysteriously received numerous e-mails, with photo attachments, from child porn sites. “I didn’t know what all the e-mails were about, until I opened one and saw an adult man with a small boy, about my son’s age,” Zehm said. He was instantly angered and repulsed, said Zehm, who has an 18-month-old son. Zehm reported the incident to his supervisors, and the issue eventually was forwarded to the company’s regional office in Seattle. “They asked me if I felt threatened by it,” Zehm said. “I don’t feel threatened by it, but I don’t like it. They just wanted the whole thing to go away.” The matter apparently wasn’t reported to authorities, and Zehm soon changed jobs. The State Patrol detectives listened to Zehm’s story about the e-mails, then said they had a warrant to search his home in northeast Spokane. The detectives said they’d arrested Harmon that same day at his home in Cheney. “They thought I was part of this child porn thing,” Zehm said. “It was overwhelming.” They followed Zehm to his home and went straight to the family’s computer. “Even though they’d obviously followed us for weeks, they didn’t know we’re not hooked up to the Internet,” Robyn Zehm said. She uses the computer for medical transcription work she does when not working as an office manager for a physical therapist. The detectives copied the contents of the computer’s hard drive, but found no child porn or gay-related material. “I saw them change the writing on the file from `suspect-Zehm’ to `victim-Zehm,”’ Robyn Zehm recalled. Harmon, a 49-year-old electrical engineer, was charged in federal court with possession and distribution of child pornography. He was convicted of the crime and was sentenced last month to three years in prison, prompting the Zehms to speak out. When the detectives searched Harmon’s home, they found several computers, child pornography and evidence Harmon had used Zehm’s name on e-mail accounts. Detectives also learned Harmon had obtained Zehm’s photograph, his Social Security number and those of his wife, their children and Zehm’s mother. Zehm now believes Harmon got the private information from an unlocked personnel file at his former employer. Harmon apologized for his actions on Jan. 16 when he was sentenced. He said his actions “caused a great hardship for myself and my family.” But he made no mention of the Zehms. The young couple chose not to attend Harmon’s sentencing. Robyn Zehm said she and her husband have talked to attorneys, but are discouraged about any legal recourse. “He didn’t take any money from us, so I guess there’s nothing we can do,” she said. “The emotional impact on us, the sleepless nights, that loss is more than money.” Eric Zehm said he no longer trusts anyone outside his family. “It’s changed my whole attitude about people - even people you’ve trusted for years,” he said.