Ex-network engineer faces prison after admitting he sabotaged employer's system

Ricky Joe Mitchell deleted EnerVest's phone accounts and backup data after learning he was about to be fired

A former network engineer at a West Virginia oil and gas company could face up to 10 years in federal prison after pleading guilty this week to sabotaging the company's systems so badly that its operations were affected for a month.

Ricky Joe Mitchell admitted to prosecutors that in June 2012, just after finding out he was going to be terminated, he tapped into EnerVest's system and reset its network servers to the original factory settings, according to a press release issued this week by U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin's office.

"As a result of his intentional conduct, EnerVest was unable to fully communicate or conduct business operations for approximately 30 days," the release said. "In addition, data that the company thought had been backed up could not be retrieved."

Mitchell faces sentencing on April 24. He could receive up to 10 years in prison and three years of supervised release, according to Goodwin's office. He must also pay restitution.

Mitchell, who now lives in Mableton, Georgia, couldn't be reached for comment on Thursday.

He has been released on bond, said David Bungard, an assistant federal public defender who represented him in the case, in a brief phone interview on Thursday.

Bungard declined to speculate on whether Mitchell will be given anything close to the maximum sentence.

"Sentencing is up to the judge," Bungard said. "It's going to be the judge's call." Under federal guidelines, Mitchell will also be eligible for up to 54 days off his sentence per year for good behavior.

Mitchell worked at EnerVest from August 2009 to June 2012, according to the indictment a grand jury handed down last year.

The indictment goes into further details on Mitchell's actions against EnerVest, which cost the company "substantially in excess" of US$1 million.

On June 26, 2012, Mitchell hacked into a protected computer, where he erased backup information and sent a command to disable a data replication process designed to send backup data to the company's Houston, Texas location, according to the indictment.

He also "deleted EnerVest's phone system accounts and extensions, deleted all accounting data, and deleted all information validation for the Houston, Texas location among other acts," it adds.

Mitchell is no stranger to computer-related controversy. In high school, he was accused of planting more than 100 viruses on the school's systems, according to a report in the Charleston Gazette newspaper.

Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris' email address is Chris_Kanaracus@idg.com

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