back to article 'I'm innocent!' says IT contractor on trial after Office 365 bill row spiraled out of control

An IT contractor is facing criminal charges after turning off the Microsoft Office 365 service of a customer he said owed him money. Jim Kubicek, 48, of Cumming, Georgia, US, was arrested and charged with theft by extortion, computer theft, and computer trespass. He denies any wrongdoing, and told The Register: "I am innocent …

  1. Your alien overlord - fear me

    Why was he in control of their cloud service? Suely it was the CoC credit card used, not his. I certainly do this for my customers.

    If he'd served them with a bill, why not just wait for the money?

    1. foxyshadis

      I guess you've never worked as an independent contractor, where the rule is to acquire the licenses first, then bill the entity on a cost-plus basis for the time involved. After all, most jobs are legit and pay on time, and running around with a client's credit card is seen as a serious faux pas.

      Most likely the tech really did shoulder the £62K on his own; he says he already billed them and had proceeded to a civil suit before cutting them off, so what more do you want from him?

      1. P. Lee Silver badge

        Devils and details.

        If it was: contract cancelled, service cancelled. What were they expecting?

        If on the other hand, they had paid their O365 bill but had cancelled his support contract and he turned off the service because he still happened to have admin access, that's another story.

        Either way, I'm sure I won't be the first to think: it wouldn't have happened if it was wasn't Cloud.

        Let's take another example... say you run an abortion advice service which relies on government funding. Trump cuts off your government funds and you have a cash-flow issue. If you don't pay your subscription, your entire operation pretty much shuts down immediately. No Excel for the finance team, no Word for the mail merges, no Excel for the tech team IP addressing "database."

        Or maybe you run a Muslim humanitarian aid agency, and Trump decides it should be shut down because its aids terrorists. Maybe a rogue employee is helping terrorists - unlikely but possible. Flick a switch and your infrastructure as a service is gone. No media to install from, no offline usage is possible for the OS or applications. Accounting and payroll running as SaaS? It's gone - you can't pay bills or employees. It isn't just that a court order could put you out of business, its the fact that you'll be in no position to fight it. If you can't fight it, the government is going to be able to far more heavy handed.

        How fragile do you want your infrastructure to be? How much fragility do we want in the ecosystem as a whole?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Devils and details.

          With off-site backups in the hands of the end-user?

          As if on-site admins never used their remote access to wipe systems down?

          Never known to have happened?

          Maybe time to lay off the moan and sit down and pass an AWS exam?

        2. Adrian Midgley 1

          Re: Devils and details.

          Charities should be using FLOSS..

          1. TeeCee Gold badge
            Coat

            Re: Devils and details.

            It's Cloud, not Sheep.

            I know it's confusing at a distance, but.....

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Devils and details.

              It's Cloud, not Sheep.

              No wonder I couldn't get to sleep.

          2. kain preacher Silver badge

            Re: Devils and details.

            That is a silly comment. With out knowing the needs of the end user. There may or may not be FLOSS alternatives.

            1. Marshalltown

              That is a silly comment. ...?

              Not really. Maybe a little political perhaps. It is a Chamber of Commerce so most likely corrupt - well to judge from the CCs in the counties I grew up in, and it's being in Georgia - at least in minor ways. They need a web site, some editing capacity and possibly a bit of accounting ad all the social media crud. All of that can be done with FOSS. Why doesn't someone invent some antisocial media?

              1. kain preacher Silver badge

                Re: That is a silly comment. ...?

                How do you know that's all they need ? My point still stands. If you do not know what they need how can you say FLOSS should be mandatory. You are making a statement with out knowing all of the facts.

              2. Pompous Git Silver badge

                Re: That is a silly comment. ...?

                Why doesn't someone invent some antisocial media?
                They already did. It's called Farcebook...

            2. oldcoder

              Re: Devils and details.

              Problem with Office365?

              there is LibreOffice.

              No contract to cause problems, no license fees...

          3. FrankAlphaXII Silver badge

            Re: Devils and details.

            Pray tell how is a Chamber of Commerce a charity?

            They're a semi-public special interest group representing business interests. Nothing more.

            Though some CoCs are funded by local government they're usually not controlled by them, if you're British the best way of looking at a CoC is as a quango with a large degree of independence from their funding sources.

        3. bombastic bob Silver badge
          Devil

          Re: Devils and details.

          "If on the other hand, they had paid their O365 bill but had cancelled his support contract and he turned off the service because he still happened to have admin access, that's another story."

          yes. THAT is a detail that would make a HUGE difference in how we interpret this situation.

        4. William 3 Bronze badge

          Re: Devils and details.

          Your first few paragraphs were great.

          Then you went all SJW and spoiled it.

      2. jMcPhee

        If he'd have been an employee instead of a contractor, this wouldn't have happened.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Well, it is Georgia after all

      Which means the sheriff obeys the highest briber.

  2. David Dawson

    State monopoly on violence

    Writ large.

  3. ShelLuser

    Based on assumptions...

    I'm tempted to side with Kubicek. Now, I have never dealt with the US government business wise but I have a few experiences with working for the Dutch government while representing a (small) private IT company.

    Lets just say that I'm not too surprised to read about experiences where the government doesn't hold up their end of an agreement. I've somewhat experienced the same (where you literally had to wait for months before you finally got payment, an investment which is extremely hard on small private firms) and that made me decide 'never again'.

    In case you don't understand: you make costs in order to help out certain customers, investments if you will. But you also expect to get paid, also to cover said expenses. So by letting bills go (way) overdue you could argue that the client (the government here) is now forcing you to lend them money. And that can be a very rough situation for a private company. Not to mention unfair: if you loan money with a bank you get to pay a lot of interest after all.

    The thing is: I read much more stories describing such experiences with regards to doing work for the government. Granted: Dutch government in my case. But if there's one thing I learned thanks to the Internet it's that some governments aren't all that different in the way they act and behave towards citizens.

    So with that in mind I think this is a classic display of power abuse on the end of the US government.

    Something easily proven too: all Kubicek has to do is show the contracts. Assuming that those are all in order (I assume as much, otherwise I doubt he'd hire a lawyer) I think he should have a solid case. And I also hope he'll sue them for slander and power abuse as well!

    1. Adrian Midgley 1

      Re: Based on assumptions...

      Not officially the government I think.

    2. H in The Hague Silver badge

      Re: Based on assumptions...

      " I have a few experiences with working for the Dutch government"

      My experience with the Dutch public sector is that they're much like any large business: it all depends which department you deal with. The parts of the Dutch government (mostly technical bods) I've worked for have always been v efficient and pay promptly, but I'm aware of colleagues who've had grief from rather less well organised departments.

    3. Patched Out

      Re: Based on assumptions...

      Not the U.S. Government, its a local municipal government. The rest of your post is valid, however.

      1. Nunyabiznes

        Re: Based on assumptions...

        @Patched Out

        "Not the U.S. Government, its a local municipal government. The rest of your post is valid, however."

        Chambers of Commerce are by and large private organizations organized by local businesses. They do usually apply for and are granted non-profit tax status for some reason. They do tend to work closely with the local governments (in the US this would be County and Municipal in most jurisdictions with the notable exception of Louisiana which is based on parishes instead of counties - French influence) and can have an inordinate amount of behind-the-scenes influence within said government offices.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Based on assumptions...

          Yes, the Chamber of Commerce is a non-govt entity, and its members most assuredly were golf buddies with the sheriff, or had paid the money to get him elected.

          It seems the town (which is the county seat) has a population of only 6000 or so, so quite ripe for old-time southern small town corruption.

      2. Pirate Dave

        Re: Based on assumptions...

        "Not the U.S. Government, its a local municipal government. "

        No, iI don't think it's even a municipal government, it's a Chamber of Commerce, which is maybe, at best, quasi-governmental, but not really. It's an economic development group of local business leaders. AFAIK, they have no governmental authority over anything, although they may be "officially" recognized by the local government and included in parades and such.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Based on assumptions...

      That is interesting re the Dutch government. A stark contrast to the UK. Here the government is the best customer you can have if you want your invoices paid on time.

      1. Red Bren
        Thumb Down

        Re: Based on assumptions...

        "Here the government is the best customer you can have if you want your invoices paid on time."

        If you're Serco or G4S, you even get paid for non-existant work

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Based on assumptions...

        "Here the government is the best customer you can have if you want your invoices paid on time."

        Really? I've been on the edge of meetings with UK public sector finance people where they were looking for things like spelling mistakes on invoices so they could avoid paying them in one quarter, and leave them to pay at the end of the following quarter. They were 30 day invoices, which was clear on the invoice - and the PO had accepted the supplier's standard terms. (I was the engineer who worked with the supplier in question, and a finance manager had signed off on the PO.)

        All I could do was ask which of the finance people's names should go on the "reasons the project failed" email. However, they knew no such email would ever be read by anyone who would do anything about it.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Based on assumptions...

          "Really? I've been on the edge of meetings with UK public sector finance people where they were looking for things like spelling mistakes on invoices so they could avoid paying them in one quarter, and leave them to pay at the end of the following quarter."

          Yes, really. Based on my experience, the private sector is much, much worse for delaying payment, or trying to renegotiate the contract after they get the invoice. Whereas prompt payment is a matter of policy for the government. More often I've had public sector bodies wanting to pay early - to use up this year's budget and make sure their budget isn't cut next year.

      3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Based on assumptions...

        "Here the government is the best customer you can have if you want your invoices paid on time."

        One client of mine doing work for HMG billed one of their clients by EDI. The client's EDI server had been down for a few weeks before they got round to telling them. I also spent a long time analysing the far from clear self-billing of another of their clients, trying to reconcile it with work done for them.

    5. Paul Renault

      Re: Based on assumptions...

      Hear, hear!

      I'm aware of a few contracts that were negotiated on the basis of a volume of work or a length of contract, where the contractor assumes most of the costs at the start, and where the contractor finally makes a decent profit at the end.

      Often, the client cancels that contract, right at the point where the contractor has just barely recovered his/her costs, but before they manage to make any of the negotiated profits.

  4. Aqua Marina Silver badge

    Paper trail

    The paperwork trail will ultimately exonerate or lack of will crucify him.

    If he has records of sending via some form of recorded delivery, or acknowledged email, an invoice for the service, a statement, a reminder, a 7 day letter and a final notice then he's covered.

    If however he has seen red when they have terminated him, and he's shut down the service in spite, it's unlikely the judge will take his side.

    Always do things in writing, never by phone.

    1. HmmmYes Silver badge

      Re: Paper trail

      Well.. always have the terms /contract in writing.

      Ill wait to see what happens on this.

      One sides overstepped the mark.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Depressingly familiar

    When I first started out freelancing spent half my time chasing late payments and listening to sob stories from accounts departments, now I put the penalty clauses on the front page of the contract in block capitals.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Depressingly familiar

      Quite. And lawyers are some of the worst. I shifted to enforcing a 4% charge per month for invoices unpaid after 30 days (with a couple for grace). Given that they had signed the contracts (expert witness work) they had not a leg to stand on. I still get the work as I seem to be able to deliver the results, but invoices became a lot easier to rely on being paid.

      1. Pompous Git Silver badge

        Re: Depressingly familiar

        And lawyers are some of the worst.
        Not for me. While the only bad debt I had was with a lawyer, most of my clients were lawyers and real estate agents, Basically small businesses with 2-5 employees though I had one huge contract that needed me to hire two subbies for a year.

    2. alain williams Silver badge

      Re: Depressingly familiar

      No need to put it in the contract, just something at the bottom of invoices reminding them of the 'Late Payments of Commercial Debts Regulations'.

      I wrote a calculator for the statutory interest that you can claim: Statutory Interest Calculator

    3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Depressingly familiar

      "I put the penalty clauses on the front page of the contract"

      Where possible I included a clause to say that all copyright in work done remained with MyCo until final invoice was paid.

    4. Pompous Git Silver badge

      Re: Depressingly familiar

      When I first started out freelancing spent half my time chasing late payments and listening to sob stories from accounts departments
      When I first began contracting in the early 90s that was a problem for me too. Government and big business were the worst taking from 60-120 days to pay a 30 day invoice. Then I started offering a 15% discount for payment on the day. My cash-flow improved dramatically and after a few months I didn't need to issue 30 day invoices and wait any more.

      Government and big businesses were often miffed when told: "I'll call you back when I'm so short of business I can afford to wait a few months before being paid."

  6. cantankerous swineherd Silver badge

    don't mess with the good ole boys at the chamber of commerce, they've got the cops in their pocket.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    UK version ?

    Anyone else find this story familiar ? I am sure there was a similar story in the UK where a small firm/contractor set something up, and when the client didn't pay and lost access to their data they tried to claim "extortion" and got the police involved ?

    For some reason I am also remembering the story where the Feds (US) seized some servers and were then forced to pay to keep them running after the legitimate non-targets who were affected threatened them with a megabucks civil suit.

  8. Huw D

    I can't see anything happening apart from the Chamber of Commerce being shown to be fools.

    Jim's won awards in Forsyth for his MSP services, FFS.

    If you want to speak to the man in person, there's a good discussion here https://community.spiceworks.com/topic/1963710-msp-charged-with-extortion-for-shutting-off-services

    There's also a fundraiser to cover Jim's legal costs at https://fundrazr.com/MSPInjustice

  9. billium
    Happy

    Best of luck to him if he is in the right.

    @Huw

    Also impressed at a member of the Scottish Parliament doing it work in America.

  10. John Smith 8

    You can't fight city hall...

    Or rather the Chamber of Commerce.

    Ok, so you can...

  11. Doc Ock

    Don't mess with the BOFH, however the real BOFH would have been more subtle and not have themself arrested.

    Is the chair of the chamber of commerce a relative of the local police chief or the mayor ?

  12. Tezfair

    This was on Spiceworks earlier this week, plus more information

    1. Huw D

      I included the SW link in my earlier post.

  13. minion queen

    This is a Professional IT Service Provider that I have worked with along side in the past. As a good service provider they have a solid contract in place.  They also would have a continuance clause for the end of the contract and need notification that the client will be moving to someone else, 90 days is normal.  They also I am sure have a line about if a client doesn't pay on time then xyz will happen to their services.

    Also even if they did provide their o365 and were paying for it etc. Then if you shut this off it does not take 10 days to get it back online.  Even if you have to change the domain etc. it doesn't take that long.  Even if everything is fully deleted on the admin panel side, MS can retrieve it.

    Sounds to me like the Chamber is trying to blame them for a bad decision in moving to a company that is incompetent.

  14. This post has been deleted by its author

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Contractual dispute not a criminal matter

    The worrying thing is that this shoudl involve a criminal court. It seems like a contractual dispute. Just because something is done using a computer does not make it more serious than if done without using a computer. The keything is who was paying the subscription, if the contractor was paying then it is entirely appropriate that he doscontinued it if the cusotmer terminated the contract.

  16. serendipity
    Joke

    They should thank the guy ;)

    Surely, a perfect opportunity for this Chamber to do a reverse Munich, and jump ship to Linux + LibreOffice!!

  17. applebyJedi

    Oh dear

    I've watched Making a Murderer on Netlix, and I don't rate his chances to high at all. American law is a bigger lottery than the EuroMillions on a Friday rollover!

  18. Potemkine Silver badge

    He should be happy

    He could have been shot. Good skin color, I guess.

  19. Alistair Silver badge
    Windows

    Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce.

    Not government in the context of legitimate legislators.

    But CoC's tend to *think* they're government. (sorry, personal experience speaking)

    I've seen several write ups of this. Interestingly SocMedia colour him as innocent, and one or two media presentations paint him as some sort of cowboy lone wolf technical terrorist. Interesting dichotomy.

    Considering (as I understand it) he actually employs a few bodies, I hope he comes out on top.

  20. sisk Silver badge

    The organization noted that no data was lost and no personal information on any individuals was compromised.

    That being the case, how could this matter possibly be considered a criminal case? I find this completely boggling.

  21. regprentice

    Only a headline articl because of (what i assume is) the contractors mugshot.

    On the pictorial evidence - guilty.

  22. Bob Camp

    The most astonishing thing in this article is that the pound is now just 1.25 USD! I can remember when it was worth more than 2 USD! Are you guys across the pond OK?

    Don't panic, I'm sure our new President will screw something up and the dollar will plummet. Just hang in there.

  23. fishman

    Legal fun

    If the guy is innocent, then we have false arrest, false imprisonment, etc. Wonder if he will sue.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Legal fun

      In order to sue he'll have to win against a system that is aware of setting precedent for false arrest, imprisonment etc......good luck to him finding justice (assuming he is in the right of course)

    2. Steven Jones

      Re: Legal fun

      Whether you are innocent of a charge is entirely irrelevant to the matter of whether it's false arrest of not. What matters is whether the arresting authorities have reasonable grounds for making an arrest in the first place. Many people are arrested, go to court and are found not guilty. Very few succeed in winning false (or unlawful) arrest cases.

      However, this one does sound odd. I'm pretty sure there's a lot more to tell on this case.

  24. Red Bren

    @Christoph Re: Computers Don't Argue

    He's lucky he isn't facing the death penalty

    https://forums.theregister.co.uk/forum/2/2016/09/19/ministry_of_justice_conviction_by_computer_plans/#c_2976558

  25. Mikel

    Listed among the charges

    Gross malpractice. For recommending Office 364 in the first place.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Listed among the charges

      I'll endorse that as an unwilling admin of that steaming pile of crap.

      Anon to protect my job. The higher ups don't react well to being told they've forced their bad decisions on the IT department.

  26. John Crisp

    Who got who?

    Sounds like he was 'got' bearing in mind he was cuffed and had to pay bail.

    What happened to the directors if said org? Carried on at the 19th hole I guess.

  27. 2Nick3 Bronze badge

    Career limiting?

    "While at a careers fair at Lanier Technical College, the IT contractor was pulled aside by officers from the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office, cuffed, and taken to the county jail."

    He probably didn't make a very good impression with pospective employers. Or maybe not - "Hey, we can probably get that guy who was arrested pretty cheap!"

    1. Notas Badoff

      Re: Career limiting?

      Yes, but not as you thought of.

      Consider that he might have had a booth there and was interviewing people for employment in his local business.

      Now would the attendees of said careers fair want to be employed in an IT career anywhere near that locality? Really really great when the local Chamber of Commerce torpedoes future local commerce. *That* is the aspect that should be blown up in local newspapers!

  28. JJKing Bronze badge
    Devil

    Worst payers

    The worst payers were accountants. They knew how and how long they could string it out before they had to pay. Lawyers are the next worst.

    1. BebopWeBop Silver badge

      Re: Worst payers

      Or accounts who work for lawyers?

  29. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    Chamber of Commerce? Maybe one of the members has a lad who's good with these computer things.

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    FFS -- Open Office obviously

    Are people just stupid?

    Why pay for the M$ shit when you can get it for free?

    Or at least this is my view. There is a perfectly good alternative that has been around for years. And it's free. Why in the name of God would you want to give ANY money to these shysters? Is Office 365 THAT GOOD that you must have it?

  31. Uncle Ron

    Unique on the Planet

    The office of County Sheriff in the US is the -only-, I repeat ONLY, elected law enforcement officer in the world. In the WORLD. It is an archaic and unnecessary agency. It is a highly politicized office and is populated with hacks, morons, corrupt incompetents, and criminals in their own right. Deputies and other employees are very often hired based on the "good-old-boy" methodology. The office of County Sheriff is an overlapping, redundant, and highly expensive agency and should be eliminated. Everything about a County Sheriff's Department is questionable, from it's hiring practices, to it's access to highly sensitive citizen data bases. It is a terrible situation in America, rife with abuse.

    In this case, some kind of good-old-boy connection between the CoC and the Sheriff's office, perhaps a well placed political campaign contribution, may explain why this poor, stiffed, contractor finds himself in jail right now. Just sayin'...

    1. Fatman Silver badge

      Re: Unique on the Planet

      <quote>t is a highly politicized office and is populated with hacks, morons, corrupt incompetents, media whores1, and criminals in their own right.</quote>

      There!!!, FTFY

      1 Edited to include such types as Joe Arpaio (formerly sheriff of Maricopa County Arizona), and a more closer to home one, (Grady Judd of Polk County Florida who just loves to tout his department's successes on local TV).

  32. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

    I suppose it depends, but I would have avoided the situation

    I think this has been said... but I suppose it depends. I think this has been said, but if the service was paid through him, and they were delinquint, I think he was within his rights (although, see below, I would avoid this kind of situation entirely...). If it was not paid through him, he's in the wrong; users of any cloud service really must consider what happens if they lose access to that service (and it sounds like they did consider that at least to some extent since they say they lost no data.) If The gov't (including local gov'ts like this) do have a nasty habit of using criminal charges in cases where anyone else would use a civil suit.

    When I was doing contract IT work with a few business partners, we made quite sure that a) Subscription services ("cloud" backup, dynamic dns, e-mail and web hosting) were paid by the client directly to whoever provided the service. We were paid for our services, not to pass some money onto a 3rd party. b) They had copies of all notes we made*; whether they knew how to use it or not, a future IT vendor would find them useful. In other words, we followed the general principal "if the whole IT group got hit by a bus, the customer should not be screwed."

    *Notes we gave them included changes we made from stock config on routers, access points, etc.; network maps; device documentation for some devices (for instance one site had a PBX where they had the "end user" manual so it just said to call a PBX vendor for changing half the stuff; we found the real manual with all the info and gave them a copy); administrative credentials (for computers, online services, routers, access points, and whatever else); and miscellaneous notes (for instance, noting one high-end HP network printer they had that dropped off the network several times a week and had to be power cycled, HP never released non-buggy firmware for the darned thing.)

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