Racist Comment Probe Unable To Confirm Paddack Posted, But Message Originated From Home IP Address

Racist Comment Probe Unable To Confirm Paddack Posted, But Message Originated From Home IP Address
Councilman Mark Paddack is pictured taking his seat on the dais after a 2018 swearing-in ceremony. File Photo

OCEAN CITY — The Worcester County Sheriff’s Office’s investigation into an elected official’s racist social media comment has been completed as inconclusive.

Ocean City Councilman Mark Paddack was accused last September of making negative comments against a local businessman with alleged racial overtones. The comments were shared and quickly went viral through the local community. From the beginning, Paddack asserted his Facebook account had been hacked and was not responsible for the alleged offensive comments.

The Worcester County Sheriff’s Office at Paddack’s request initiated a detailed, multi-party electronic investigation into the incident. The Sheriff’s Office final report obtained last week states the results of the investigation are inconclusive.

The report and the included supplemental reports are lengthy and full of technical details about the forensic investigation into the accounts from which the offensive message was allegedly sent including a probe into different IP addresses. Donna Eno of D. Eno Forensics conducted an independent investigation, and its final report was reviewed and analyzed by the Sheriff’s Office’s own analysts including Digital Forensics Examiner Peter Kupec of the Criminal Enforcement Team.

Based on the various investigations and reports, the Sheriff’s Office’s final report is the potential source of the alleged offensive social medial messages is inconclusive. Although the final report does not completely exonerate the beleaguered councilman, who shortly after the alleged incident was censured by his colleagues on the council, the extensive investigation could not determine the source.

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“Investigators are unable to determine where the posts originated and, therefore, are unable to determine who could have made the posts,” the final report reads. “Case closed.”

The issue arose last Sept. 21 when Paddack allegedly commented on the Facebook page of the recently married wife of a local business owner and longtime resident while the couple was honeymooning in Italy. In a picture from the honeymoon, the recently married groom was apparently seen wearing a baseball-style hat backwards.

Paddack, in a Facebook post sent to the man’s wife, allegedly posted, “Tell the dude to turn his hat back where the white designed the hat to be worn. Where I come from, that is a punk. Immature POS.”

The Sheriff’s Office final report asserts the investigation could not determine if the offensive posts originated from any of the councilman’s personal devices, but public perception remains it was Paddack.

“Digital Forensics Examiner Kupec reviewed the report from D. Eno Forensics and did not find any evidence that Paddack’s computer or phone were accessed remotely,” the report reads. “DFE Kupec also noted that based on the summary provided by D. Eno Forensics, it is his opinion that the posts in question did not originate from either of Paddack’s devices. Investigators are unable to determine where the posts originated and, therefore, are unable to determine who could have made the posts.”

The Sheriff’s Office final report states the data collected during the investigation was insufficient to support a conclusion that the posts originated from Paddack’s devices.

“After completing the review of the D. Eno Report, DFE Kupec came to the conclusion that the Facebook post in question was more likely than not to have originated from a source other than the complainant,” the report reads. “DFE Kupec does not believe the complainant’s computer or phone were physically compromised, but the D. Eno report does not include enough data to determine the exact method used to gain access to the Facebook account.”

The Sheriff’s Office report asserts the investigators are fully confident in the process of the multi-layered investigation.

“Based on the data provided, DFE Kupec believes the data acquisition process for all three sources was completed properly and has no reason to believe the data contained in the D. Eno report is not an accurate representation of the data in question,” the report reads.

The Sheriff’s Office final report pointed out different ways in which a hacker might gain access to another party’s social media accounts.

“The D. Eno report shows inconsistencies in the post activity regarding the initial message from the complainant,” the report reads. “The report also shows how it is possible to use third-party software, such as a web browser extension or mobile phone software, to access a user’s Facebook account to post content on their behalf. This software is often used for legitimate purposes, but, as this was the only post created under suspicious circumstances, it is highly unlikely the complainant was regularly using this method to create his posts.”

The report did conclude the Facebook message in question originated from his home’s IP address.

“Mr. Paddack stated that he didn’t have an explanation and that was why he had sent his devices to an expert for analysis,” the report reads. “… Mr. Paddack was asked if there was anyone else in his residence on the night in question who would have had access to his devices and he stated there was not. Mr. Paddack was asked if there was anyone else who would have been given access to his Wi-Fi on the night in question and he stated that there was not. …”

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.