Former Ellsworth County water plant worker charged with tampering

TOPEKA — A central Kansas man agreed to plead guilty in U.S. District Court to illegally using a computer to tamper with an Ellsworth County rural water district treatment facility about two months after quitting his job at the plant.

An investigation by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Kansas Bureau of Investigation led to Wyatt Travnichek, 23, of Lorraine in Ellsworth County.

He agreed to guilty pleas to single counts of reckless damage to a computer system and tampering with a public water supply. In March 2019, he used a remote login network to shut down the Post Rock Rural Water District plant and to turn off one of its water filters. He had left his job at the plant in January 2019.

“Protecting America’s drinking water is a top EPA priority,” said Lance Ehrig, special agent in charge of the EPA’s criminal investigation division in Kansas. “EPA will continue our focused efforts with Department of Justice and the states as we investigate and pursue any threats that might be directed toward vital community drinking water resources.”

Travnichek was hired at the Post Rock plant in January 2018. He was given authority to monitor the facility with a remote computer login system. Despite no longer working at the plant, he accessed the network March 27, 2019, to disrupt the water treatment process.

Travnichek told investigators he was intoxicated that night and didn’t recall intruding at the plant, federal prosecutors said Thursday in a statement. Agents determined Travnichek’s cellphone was used to control the plant’s equipment and the same phone was in the defendant’s possession during the crime.

FBI special agent in charge Charles Dayoub said the agency considered security of cyber infrastructure a high priorities.

“There is no doubt that Travnichek’s intentional actions directly placed the public in harm’s way,” Dayoub said. “The plea should send a clear message to anyone who attempts to tamper with public facilities.”

The recommended prison sentence was 12 months and one day, but the decision will fall to a federal district court judge.

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

Derek Nester
Derek Nester
Derek Nester was born and raised in Blue Rapids and graduated from Valley Heights High School in 2000. He attended Cowley College in Arkansas City and Johnson County Community College in Overland Park studying Journalism & Media Communications. In 2002 Derek joined Taylor Communications, Inc. in Salina, Kansas working in digital media for 550 AM KFRM and 100.9 FM KCLY. Following that stop, he joined Dierking Communications, Inc. stations KNDY AM & FM as a board operator and fill-in sports play-by-play announcer. Starting in 2005 Derek joined the Kansas City Chiefs Radio Network as a Studio Coordinator at 101 The Fox in Kansas City, a role he would serve for 15 years culminating in the Super Bowl LIV Championship game broadcast. In 2020 he moved to Audacy, formerly known as Entercom Communications, Inc. and 106.5 The Wolf and 610 Sports Radio, the new flagship stations of the Kansas City Chiefs Radio Network, the largest radio network in the NFL. Through all of this, Derek continues to serve as the Digital Media Director for Sunflower State Radio, the digital and social media operations of Dierking Communications, Inc. and the 6 radio stations it owns and operates across Kansas.

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