An Air Force contractor in Tennessee, who is under federal investigation for allegedly stealing military communications equipment and accessing state and federal networks from home, is already awaiting trial on state-level charges of theft and sex crimes against a minor, the local district attorney confirmed Thursday.

Brent DeSalvo, 48, of Manchester, Tennessee, has pleaded not guilty in Coffee County Circuit Court to charges of felony solicitation of sexual exploitation of a minor and misdemeanor assault by offensive touching, as well as felony theft of property in excess of $60,000.

He faces a total of nine to 14 years in prison and up to $28,000 in fines for the felonies, and up to 11 months and 29 days in jail and a $2,500 fine for the misdemeanor.

New details of those allegations come amid a federal probe into DeSalvo’s role in a “critical compromise” of communication networks used by Air Force training units at 17 bases, plus other state and federal agencies, according to documents filed in U.S. District Court.

DeSalvo, who worked at Arnold Air Force Base in southeast Tennessee as a radio communications specialist, allegedly stole nearly $90,000 in military and state government radio equipment and the software that powers it, an agent with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations said in a June 29 request for a search warrant.

He had gained “unauthorized administrator access” to the radio network used by Air Education and Training Command, and could access Arnold’s entire radio system from home, the affidavit said.

Investigators also found that DeSalvo could enter the communications systems of the FBI; the Tennessee Valley Authority, the federally run utility company that provides electricity to 10 million people; and other state agencies.

It’s unclear whether DeSalvo did anything to eavesdrop on or harm those networks or their users, or if he shared sensitive information with others. He has not been charged with a crime in the federal investigation; the Justice Department declined to comment.

DeSalvo has been arrested and released twice in the past seven months as parallel investigations into his professional and personal misconduct continue to unfold.

Local law enforcement first began looking into DeSalvo in May 2022, when the Manchester Police Department received a complaint that DeSalvo had made sexual advances toward a minor, said Craig Northcott, district attorney general for Tennessee’s 14th Judicial District, in an emailed statement.

Three months later, the Air Force Office of Special Investigations began its own inquiry into communications equipment that had gone missing from Arnold, an aerospace research and development site focused on missile, rocket and engine testing.

Coworkers flagged DeSalvo, who they knew kept government radio equipment in his car and at home, as someone who “worked odd hours, was arrogant, frequently lied, displayed inappropriate workplace behavior and sexual harassment, [and] had financial problems,” federal court documents said.

One coworker said he had watched the man “conduct unauthorized communications” using Air Force equipment and twice reported him as a potential insider threat.

When asked in October 2022 about three radios that had disappeared from his workplace at Arnold, the man confirmed he had them at home, court documents said.

In January 2023, local and federal law enforcement searched two of DeSalvo’s residences for push-to-talk radios, laptops and other equipment and programs.

“I witnessed an active computer screen … which contained the entire [Arnold AFB] communications system on [the man’s] home network,” one Air Force agent said in the affidavit. “Multiple other agencies in the state of Tennessee were identified on the home network, to include FBI, Tennessee Valley Authority, Tennessee Emergency Management Agency, Vanderbilt Hospital, Tennessee Highway Patrol, as well as a plethora of other trunk systems.”

Trunk systems spread groups of radio users across multiple frequencies so they can talk at the same time without being interrupted.

DeSalvo was arrested Jan. 28, posted a $40,000 bond, and was released Feb. 6 ahead of his trial, Northcott said.

One month later, DeSalvo was again arrested and indicted by a grand jury on the solicitation and assault charges. He paid the $15,000 bond on March 17 and pleaded not guilty at his arraignment in April, Northcott said.

As the theft investigation unfolded in June and July, authorities seized a trove of at least three dozen hard drives, flash drives and memory cards, two cell phones, eight computers and other hardware like hard drive readers and compact discs, according to the warrant.

Several thumb drives held programming software for the two-way radio network used by Arnold AFB’s security forces, maintainers and others who run the installation, as well as software used in the Tennessee Advanced Communications Network, the statewide radio system for first responders, according to the warrant.

Investigators also found blueprints of buildings on base, programming for Arnold’s “Giant Voice” announcement system, and information on 17 installations that use radio communications across Air Education and Training Command.

That included digital files for the “talk groups” that radios at a particular base can tune into at any given time, and passwords for the radio network at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, home to Air Force boot camp and technical training for tens of thousands of airmen each year.

Many of the items seized were sent to a forensic lab to extract their contents.

“These devices were used in furtherance of criminal conduct, and in violation of communications security and information security … policies,” the Air Force agent said in the June 29 affidavit.

A grand jury in Tennessee charged DeSalvo with theft in July, to which he pleaded not guilty, Northcott said. His next court appearance in both cases is scheduled for Aug. 23.

“The total value of the equipment and the monetary damage from the collateral national security issues from DeSalvo’s conduct is still being investigated,” Northcott said.

An Air Force spokesperson said Monday the situation is not an active security concern.

A human resources representative for Abacus Technology, DeSalvo’s employer, and his attorney in the theft case did not respond to emailed questions. Attempts to reach DeSalvo by phone went unanswered.

Rachel Cohen is the editor of Air Force Times. She joined the publication as its senior reporter in March 2021. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Frederick News-Post (Md.), Air and Space Forces Magazine, Inside Defense, Inside Health Policy and elsewhere.

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