The following is the audio and text transcript from the first live broadcast interview with "Diebold Whistleblower" Stephen Heller and his wife Michelle Gregory. It was conducted by Brad Friedman of The BRAD BLOG on Action Point with Cynthia Black on March 25, 2007, and aired live on KPHX 1480am, Phoenix' Air America affiliate, and the flagship station for Nova M Radio. Brad was Guest Hosting for Black that week.
Heller is the Los Angeles actor who stole incriminating documents while working as a temp at Diebold's powerful law firm Jones Day and turned them over to Bev Harris of BlackBoxVoting.org who, in turn, gave them to Ian Hoffman at the Oakland Tribune where many of them were published. The documents showed that Diebold had illegally installed uncertified hardware and software in California during the 2004 primary, which led to the decertification of their touch-screen DRE voting systems in the state.
Incredibly, Heller was many years later --- notably, long after the 2004 Election --- charged with three felony counts. He eventually pled guilty in a deal to one of the charges, as he discussed during our interview, to protect his family. As well, he was given the assurance that he'd serve no jail time and the charges would likely be removed entirely from his record after a year or so.
-- Brad Friedman interviews Stephen Heller 3/25/07 [MP3, Appx. 30 mins]
Guest Host Brad Friedman interviews
"Diebold Whistleblower" Stephen Heller
(and his wife, Michele Gregory)
Opening audio bumper:
Audio clip from March 2007 hearing on Global Warming
SENATOR INHOFE: I'm sure you read the [inaudible] article that quoted the scientists, I mentioned this in my opening statement, about they are criticizing you for some of your, uh, of being too alarmist and hurting your own cause. Now, I'll ask you to respond in writing for that one, because that would be a very long response I'm afraid. Now it seems that [Al Gore begins to talk] everybody, global warming and the media, joined the course [Senator Boxer begins to talk] last summer...
AL GORE: Well I would like to respond, may, may I respond? May... [said in background to Senator Inhofe]>
SENATOR BOXER: Excuse me, Senator Inhofe, we'll freeze...
SENATOR INHOFE: I'm asking...
SENATOR BOXER: We'll freeze the time for a minute...
SENATOR INHOFE: Oh yes, yes.
SENATOR BOXER: I'm just trying to make...
SENATOR INHOFE: Take your time, we're freezing the time.
SENATOR BOXER: No, no, we're freezing the time just for a minute. I want to, I want to talk to you a minute, please. [Audience laughter] Would you, would you agree, would you agree to let the Vice President answer your questions? And then, if you want an extra few minutes at the end, I'm happy to give it to you, but we're not going to get anywhere...
SENATOR INHOFE: Why don't we do this...
SENATOR BOXER: You're asking two questions...
SENATOR INHOFE: Why don't we do this. At the end, you can have as much time as you want to answer all the questions...
SENATOR BOXER: No, that isn't the rule, you're not making the rules. You used to when you did this - you don't do this anymore. Audience laughter Elections have consequences. [Audience claps with Senator Inhofe laughing]
End of audio clip.
Bon Jovi's "Livin' on a Prayer" comes on.
Oh, we're halfway there
Oh, oh, livin' on a prayer
Take my hand, we'll make it I swear
Oh, oh, livin' on a prayer...
BRAD FRIEDMAN Halfway there, livin' on a prayer indeed. You're listening to Action Point on 1480, KPHX, in lovely Phoenix. I'm Brad Friedman, of BradBlog.com, your friendly citizen, uh, journalist/blogger, sittin' down here in Los Angeles. Man, that was Senator Inhofe, talking to Al Gore, during his testimony on global warming, and Boxer spanking him good. "Elections have consequences," she reminded us, and indeed they do. Which leads me to my next guest. You know I had meant to ask Jodie Evans [previous guest, from CODEPINK] how many times she had been arrested. I suspect if she has been arrested, she wasn't arrested like YOU were, Stephen Heller. Stephen's with us for his first live broadcast interview. He's a Los Angeles actor, who while working as a temp employee at the law firm of voting machine company, Diebold, their powerful law firm Jones Day, he exposed, Stephen exposed internal documents which revealed that Diebold had illegally installed uncertified hardware and software in California, up in Alameda County I believe, just prior to the 2004 primary out here in this state. The company's touch screen voting machines, uh, which were already terrible, were at least de-certified for use in the state shortly thereafter. And Heller was much later charged with 3 felony counts.
STEPHEN HELLER: That's right.
BRAD: To which you eventually pled guilty to...
STEPHEN: To one.
BRAD: To one of them, in a deal. We're going to talk about that and I understand your attorneys now, have said you can't really talk about what those documents were that you - absconded with, printed out, right?
STEPHEN: No, that's true, Brad. Those documents were Attorney - Client privileged information and that's why I got arrested in the first place. And even now, if I were to talk about the content, I could be at risk of getting myself in trouble again.
BRAD: Alright, can I talk about the content?
STEPHEN: You can say anything you want.
BRAD: I will.
BRAD: Five-hundred pages, I understand, were printed out showing all manor of things that essentially, they were, Jones Day was instructing Diebold that "yeah, you did break the law in Alameda and if you want to get out of trouble - here's what you do, here's what you say, here's how you lie about it, and here's what we're going to charge you", about $500,000 a month, I think is what is was on average. And one of the interesting points in
that document, that I noticed was, they were telling Diebold that they were going to "monitor websites for key intelligence." Wonder who they were talking about? In any case. Uh, so, first off, what possessed you back in 2004, when you saw these documents, what the hell were you thinking? What, why did you take them?
STEPHEN: Ultimately I took them because dishonorable people at Diebold were trying to turn our Democracy into a facade. They were trying to turn our elections into a mockery, into a lie. Lies must be challenged.
BRAD: And did you realize at the time the kind of trouble you might be in for exposing these documents?
STEPHEN: Well, I thought of the possibilities of trouble, but I was very naive. I thought the information in the documents was so important, that the information would essentially protect me. That I wouldn't get in any serious trouble, because the people involved would want it to go away as quickly and as quietly as possible, and like I said, I was very naive.
BRAD: This was early 2004, right?
STEPHEN: Yes, January and February of 2004.
BRAD: So you were --- and this was really before even I was paying attention to this issue --- were you a political activist? What drew your eye to what was going on with Diebold and these touch screen systems and so forth?
STEPHEN: I'm not a political activist, but I'm a news junkie and after the 2000 election, there was a snowstorm of stories about the hanging chads. But in America, in the American press, there was nothing about electronic voting machines. It was in the foreign press in late 2000 and early 2001, that I began to read a lot of information from the foreign press, from all over the world about the web of personal, political and financial connections between Diebold and the other voting machine companies and the Republican Party. This, naturally, concerned me a great deal.
BRAD: When you saw this, were you, did you immediately think oh, I have to release these? Or did you ponder this a few days and think what do I do here?
STEPHEN: I spent a few days thinking about it, but I believe in my heart, even though I hadn't quite admitted it to myself, as soon as I saw them, those documents, I think I knew I was going to eventually release them. But I did worry about it and sweat about it for a couple of days before I began to steal them.
BRAD: Did you know that, uh, did you know what you were going to do with them? Did you know you were going to give them to the media? To...you eventually gave them to Blackboxvoting.org - and to Ian Hoffman, I believe, up at the Oakland Tribune?
STEPHEN: Well actually I decided during those two days of worrying and sweating about it, that I was going to give them to Bev Harris. Now you have to understand, I grew up during Vietnam and Watergate. And my first thought was - I got to get these to the press, cause the press is the Fourth Estate, the Great Watchdog. But then I realized, like I said a moment ago, no one in America in the press was covering this issue. They were covering all about hanging chads, or had been about hanging chads, but at this point there was still very little, or no coverage in America about electronic voting. So I thought if I send all these documents to some reporter who doesn't know anything about the issue, they're likely to end up in the trash can. Why take the risk if nothing good is going to come of it. I knew I had to get them to somebody who had the press connections and the Government connections to do something with these documents. And that, obviously, was Bev Harris of Black Box Voting.
BRAD: BlackBoxVoting.org. She had been on this case, was one of the first, and you know I've been called "the Paul Revere of this movement" - she was really the Paul Revere of this movement, making noise before anyone was paying attention. Well how did you get to Ian Hoffman, because he, at the Oakland Tribune, actually did a pretty damn good job of covering this story when a lot of the media, I suspect as you suggest, wouldn't care. But he seemed to get it.
STEPHEN: Absolutely, he did a great job. I gave the documents to Bev Harris and she got them both to Ian Hoffman at the Tribune, the Oakland Tribune, and to the [California] Secretary of State, and people in his office. And yes, Ian Hoffman is a fantastic journalist and did a fantastic job covering this whole story. Not just my case, but the whole issue of electronic voting.
BRAD: Now, Diebold went to court to try to stop - was it Diebold, or Jones Day, who went to court to try to stop the publication of those documents?
STEPHEN: I believe it was their law firm that tried to stop the paper from publishing them, but the judge very wisely ruled that once it's been published, it's out there and he's not going to force them to withdraw the publication.
BRAD: And so they had already, oh that's right, they went after it had already been released in the paper...
STEPHEN: That's right.
BRAD: Then they tried to withdraw them.
STPHEN: They tried to - well they sued the Oakland Tribune, saying you have to remove all copies from your website and do everything you can to take back all copies that have been published. And the judge, as I said, ruled no, it's out there - it's public information now. They can't publish more information, but what they've already published is clear.
BRAD: It's remarkable, you know how we see this all the time, where these papers try to make things disappear, as if they can't get out. There was a story in Kansas a couple of weeks ago, that a judge said you have to take it off your site...
STEPHEN: Right, I read that on your - from BradBlog.
BRAD: I ran it. It was there in the Google cache, I ran it. Information wants to get out, seems to me.
STEPHEN: Absolutely, and I was pleased to see the Appeals Court struck down the judges order [in the Kansas case].
BRAD: The Appeals Court agreed with me...
STEPHEN: ...With Brad Friedman.
BRAD: Thank you for noticing that.
STEPHEN: That's right.
BRAD: Now tell us about, you, then there was a raid at your house, 7 a.m. in the morning, sometime after the release of this information, woke you and your wife, Michele - how long after you had released the documents did that happen?
STEPHEN: Well I stole the documents in late January and early February of 2004, and the police showed up at my house on Friday the 13th, ironically enough, just after dawn in August of 2004. So about five months later.
BRAD: About five months later. But they didn't arrest you.
STEPHEN: No, they had a felony search warrant. They searched the house thoroughly and they confiscated our computers, my wife's and my computers, our cell phones, my address book, other various papers, our scanner - they took a lot of stuff, but they didn't charge me at that time.
BRAD: Did they really take Michele's high heel shoes that she wrote about?
STEPHEN: Well, I'll let her talk about that.
BRAD: Okay. She's here, we're going to try to bring her on - and by the way, we'd love to try to fit in your calls, 800-989-1480. Locally in Phoenix, 602-258-8800. Moving the clock forward then. They've done this raid, the election of 2004 moves forward, everything worked out very well in that election I understand, in reading the paper.
BRAD: No problems whatsoever...
STEPHEN: If you're a catastrophe, it worked out well for you.
BRAD: That's right, and then we get to what, 2005? When were you then finally arrested and charged with these felony, 3 felony counts?
STEPHEN: Well, you have to go a little farther than 2005 - no, I can't remember, I'm losing track of my years. When was I, I was charged in February of 2006. Yeah.
BRAD: It was 2006?
STEPHEN: Yeah, that's right.
BRAD: Okay. Why'd they wait so long?
STEPHEN: Well, you know, you'd have to ask them that, but I believe they waited so long for a number of reasons. First of all, they didn't want to move on this before the Presidential election of 2004, because they were afraid more attention paid to Diebold's shoddy machines would hurt Diebold, and Diebold pressed the DA to hold off for a little while. And then I think when the election was well and truly clear, and Diebold had been re-certified in the state by the, uh, the Secretary of State who replaced Kevin Shelley. Then I think they were ready to try to punish me for exposing their dirty deeds.
BRAD: Were they trying to punish you? Or are they trying to send a message to other whisleblowers out there, other folks like you - don't do this, we'll take you, cause this was not Federal charges, this was Los Angeles County, right?
STEPHEN: That's correct. The law firm went to the Feds and the Feds said we're not going to do this and then he went to the, the law firm went to the Secretary of State at the time, and the - I'm sorry, not the Secretary of State, the Attorney General, State Attorney General, Bill Locklear, at the time - and he said I'm not going to charge this guy with anything. So they brought a lot of pressure to bare on the local DA, the L.A. Country DA. And when - I believe, it's my opinion, but I believe the DA was acting as an arm of the law firm, Jones Day.
BRAD: The National Whistleblower Center's General Council, Michael Cohen, said Heller's case was, "the only one, of which I'm aware, in which a whistleblower has been charged with a felony." We're going to talk about the idea of whether you are a whistleblower, or are not. You said you stole those documents...
STEPHEN: Sure did.
BRAD: We're going to talk about that when we come back. We're going to take your calls, I know Larry is waiting in Phoenix, we're going to try to get to him - and much more. You're listening to Action Point, the first broadcast, live broadcast interview with Stephen Heller, troublemaker, and felon here on Action Point. We'll be back in a minute.
Bumper music and song, Shannon Williford's "Election Reform Blues" begins:
Election reform, it sure ain't pretty
Election reform, every state, every city
Election reform, [inaudible]
Election reform, in the U.S.A.
We don't to believe our votes are concrete
No paper ballots, we can't compete
Gotta wonder if somebody cheats
Election reform, it's not a sexy thing
Election reform, the media swings
Election reform, do they steal, do they rob?
Election reform, gotta look to the blogs...
BRAD: There we go, look to the blogs indeed. I'm Brad Friedman from BradBlog.com, your friendly investigative citizen journalist, sitting in for Cynthia Black, on Action Point, our last segment here with uh... a noted felon, and if I say so, patriot, Stephen Heller, who absconded with Diebold documents that eventually - well, preceded, we don't know if it lead to, but preceded the de-certification of Diebold out here in California.
STEPHEN: Well we do know that the Secretary of State's committee questioned one of the Jones Day lawyers about the documents and I believe it was an important part of their decision to de-certify Diebold.
BRAD: Do you think it was a part of - Kevin Shelley, the Secretary of State at the time, after he de-certified Diebold, he was then sort of pushed out in a political scandal. Do you think those two events were related?
STEPHEN: I don't know about that, uh, I guess there was some fund raising questionable activities. I don't think Kevin Shelley actually did anything wrong, I think some of his staff screwed up and got him in a situation that looked bad. But I don't know, I'm just speculating.
BRAD: I want to let folks know, there was a lot of news on the election reform front this week. Some incredible stories out in Ohio, where the new Secretary of State, Jennifer Brunner, I mean this is accountability. The year of accountability, Stephen.
STEPHEN: Go Jen!
BRAD: Yeah, and she's demanded some resignations out there. A new criminal investigation has begun, cause it turns out, guess what? In Cuyahoga County, looks like they printed out election results of early balloting, prior to election day! The same thing that happened in Arizona, in Pima County. There's a lawsuit down there that broke a few weeks ago, when I was out - actually when I was out in Arizona, guest hosting Malloy's show at the time. Alright, in California, Secretary of State Bowen has come up with very strict new draft criteria [to test e-voting systems]. I suspect Diebold touch screen systems in this state aren't here for long.
STEPHEN: Bye-bye Diebold.
BRAD: [chuckles] And some more trouble for folks following the Busby/Bilbray election mess down in San Diego. Mikel Haas, one of the worst Registrars in the country has been promoted - welcome to Bush World... uh, and then finally we've got some breaking news at BradBlog about the Christine Jennings race down there, the Jennings/Buchanan race. A letter that we've got posted now on BradBlog showing that in fact, the voting machine company, ES&S, was instructing the state of Florida on how to do the test, the audit, the investigation, after that disastrous election down there in Florida's District 13, that's still being challenged. And this brings me to my point. You've got ES&S telling the state of Florida how to do their job. This is what comes of private companies running our public elections. I know you've had some thoughts on that, you've actually guest blogged now at BradBlog about it and you said, "in my view Diebold has shown they cannot be trusted to run elections in America." What is, isn't that at the heart of this, this privatization of our public election system?
STEPHEN: I think so, and I think it's a horrible idea. I just can't understand why anyone would think that in the United States, it's a good idea to let a private corporation run our elections for us, in secret, using secret machines and secret software. That's insanity. We should never allow that. All votes must be on a paper ballot and there must be complete transparency in all machines used to process or tabulate those votes.
BRAD: Did you understand this issue in this sort of depth, when you, back in January of 2004 when you saw these documents and thought you had to get them out?
STEPHEN: No, not to the degree I understand it now. I knew that Bev Harris would understand it, and that's one of the reasons I chose her to send the documents to, because I knew that she had the background and the factual knowledge to understand what these documents meant and to put them in context.
BRAD: And, after you have not been able to really speak about this for so many years while you were under indictment for these felonies, it must have been driving you crazy to not be able to come out and unload.
STEPHEN: It was. It was frustrating as I saw elections come and go and I had to keep my mouth shut and I knew what these election machine companies, Diebold and ES&S and Sequoia were doing, and at least I knew for a fact what Diebold had been doing and I was assuming the others were doing the same, or similar. It was very frustrating, but I had to protect myself.
BRAD: Were you pleased with the coverage of your story? Your story actually got a fair amount of coverage, surprisingly.
STEPHEN: It did. It got good coverage and overall I think the press was - they did a very good job of presenting a balanced report and I think a balanced report kind of slanted in my favor because I think that's the facts of the issue.
BRAD: Let's take a quick call, Larry in Phoenix, welcome to Action Point. Do you have a question or comment for Stephen Heller?
LARRY: I'll be real quick. I just want to tell Stephen I think the whole country owes him a great debt of gratitude and I thank you for coming forward and I thank you for having the show to bring this out. I didn't see any news this week, so I missed it all and without you I wouldn't have caught anything. I'm anxious to see what was published that you were talking about, because I had not seen that.
BRAD: Oh man...
LARRY: I wanted to ask Stephen and you, the election down in Mexico, is it possible the same people were helping with that election down there that some of Bush's guys and Diebold's people, and maybe they have an illegitimate President just like we have here now?
BRAD: Thanks for the call Larry and the kind words.
STEPHEN: Thanks Larry, I appreciate those words.
BRAD: What do you think? Mexico? Do you see anything familiar down there?
STEPHEN: Well, you know, it's hard to tell. I think anywhere that Diebold's running an election, you have to be very suspicious of what they're doing and what their machines are doing. In terms of the President being illegitimate, or well, being the President on an illegitimate basis - I'm sure his parents were married - but in terms of him being the illegitimate President, yes, absolutely. I believe the man who is now serving his second term in the White House has yet to be elected.
BRAD: Do you believe you're a whistleblower? Now there was some controversy about this because normally whistleblowers, for example, I refer to you sort of off-handedly as "the Diebold Whistleblower", which would imply that you were working at Diebold and you're really a Jones Day whistleblower, I suppose, in a certain sense. But how do you consider yourself?
STEPHEN: I think I am a whistleblower. I also think I'm a thief. I stole attorney - client privileged documents. That's a serious crime. I pled guilty to the crime and I'm taking responsibility for it. But what is a crime is not necessarily wrong. And in fact, I believe that I exposed something that all Americans needed to know about. So I do think I'm a whistleblower.
BRAD: Do you, as a felon now, do you get to vote in the state of California?
STEPHEN: You know, I'm not really sure about that, because the law is vague. There's some types of felonies you're automatically disenfranchised, other types of felonies you're not, and at this point, I'm really not sure. I do know that I got called to jury duty and when I said that I'm a convicted felon, I didn't have to serve. [Brad laughs] So that's one thing. But you know, my wife...
BRAD: Man, that's a really hard way to get out of jury duty, Stephen.
STEPHEN: Well, it worked for me! And my wife also recently had to do jury duty and I had to tease her, that yeah, you can't get out of it honey, cause you're not a felon.
BRAD: [laughs] Speaking of --- well, the night's young, we'll see what happens --- speaking of your wife, Michele Gregory, she's here. She's had to - Michele, thanks for coming in and frankly, thanks for all you've done because you did a hell of a job while he couldn't talk, keeping people informed over at --- I want to give it --- Hellerlegaldefensefund.com, and helping me to understand this story as I was doing my best to cover what was going on, and I know you couldn't talk that much either.
MICHELE GREGORY: No, I couldn't talk. So, I wrote. You know and I wrote a lot of things that I couldn't publish or put out there at the time, but I just wrote to get it all out. And I do want to clarify that the DA did not take my shoes.
BRAD: Did not take your shoes?
MICHELE: They did not. That was a joke.
BRAD: You were kidding when you wrote that.
MICHELE: Yes. Humor was a great resource for us.
BRAD: I can imagine.
MICHELE: You know, it was just so absurd. The things that happened, it was, you know, it was scary and surrealistic and absurd and you just had to laugh.
BRAD: I guess that's all you could do, at that point. I mean, what did you think, this guy could have gone up, up the river for what was the maximum, 25 years or something like that? 10?
STEPHEN: I think there were 3 counts and each count carried a potential for 4 years, so it was a potential of up to 12 years in the state prison.
BRAD: Twelve years.
MICHELE: And at one point, Jones Day was threatening to come after us if we didn't settle for, in a civil suit, for millions of dollars and garnish our wages for the rest of our lives.
BRAD: Why did you eventually settle? Well, not settle, but plead guilty.
STEPHEN: I have to be real careful of what I say, but part of the deal was that Jones Day signed a release that they would not sue me in any kind of capacity related to the case. And that was a very important thing to protect me and my wife.
BRAD: But you're an L.A. actor, you've got plenty of money, you could have fought this all ...
STEPHEN: Oh yeah, I'm rolling in dough.
BRAD: Listen, before we have to get out here, Michele you talked about your writing. I understand you've been working on a book on all of this.
MICHELE: Yes, because everybody's asked me so many questions and said you should write a book. So I'm writing a book and I've even got the title.
BRAD: What's the title?
MICHELE: "This Blows - The Life of a Wife of a Whistleblower."
BRAD: [laughs] That's nice. I like it. Have you got a publisher yet?
MICHELE: No, no, we're still looking.
BRAD: Looking for one?
STEPHEN: Give us a call.
BRAD: Have you got someone to write the Foreword for it yet?
MICHELE: Would you be interested, Brad?
BRAD: Alright, listen guys, I wish we had more time. We need more time. Cynthia Black needs more time so we can have you back for longer next time she lets me sit in. The good news is, starting next week on KPHX, Cynthia Black will be back with Action Point for 2 full hours! She's getting an extra hour! Yeah, we did such a good job over the last couple of weeks, they gave her an extra hour!
BRAD: Go figure. Uh, I wish we had time to get into so much more, but I want to thank you Stephen and Michele, both, for what you've done for this country, having the courage to do what you did. I don't know that I would have had the courage to do that. So...
STEPHEN: Brad, I've got to tell you, you are the finest citizen journalist working in America today, and I have a tremendous amount of respect for you and everything that you've covered. Not just my story, but everything. You are an outstanding and vitally important American.
BRAD: You're very kind to say that. Read more about his story --- the man with his own category at BradBlog --- Stephen Heller, you can read his stories, look for the categories, click Stephen Heller, you'll read all the coverage of him. Thanks guys, I've got to get out here. I want to thank Rita Pardue down here, engineering beautifully, along with Desi Doyen, producing. Let me get everybody in, Sean Ryan doing engineering up in Phoenix, thanks Cynthia for letting me sit in today. Thanks Executive Producer, John Ridgeway, and of course Jodie Evans, Stephen Heller, Michele Gregory... did I do it? Until next week guys, when Cynthia's back, take this information - do something with it - go to BradBlog, learn what's going on. Most importantly, this Democracy is not going to save itself. We need all of you to get out there and take action. I'm Brad Friedman, thanks for listening.