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The feds were interested in a Tampa City Council computer. Why?

Tim Burke did not use the official city laptop of his wife, council member Lynn Hurtak, his lawyer says.
 
Tampa City Council member Lynn Hurtak and her husband, Tim Burke, speak to reporters after his hearing at Tampa's United States District Courthouse in February.
Tampa City Council member Lynn Hurtak and her husband, Tim Burke, speak to reporters after his hearing at Tampa's United States District Courthouse in February. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]
Published March 20

TAMPA — When FBI agents arrived early one morning last May to the pink, single-story home of Tampa City Council member Lynn Hurtak, they searched for phones, laptops and more.

The agents sought devices used by her husband, Tim Burke, a nationally recognized media consultant subsequently indicted last month on charges related to alleged computer hacks of Fox News videos.

They gutted his home office. They took Hurtak’s personal and campaign computers.

And they took an interest in Hurtak’s official city laptop.

“They held onto it for about 10 hours,” Burke’s lawyer, Mark Rasch, told the Tampa Bay Times, though he added that agents did not remove the device from the couple’s Seminole Heights home.

Rasch and Burke’s other lawyer, Michael Maddux, wrote in a court filing earlier this month that federal agents “specifically requested” permission to seize the computer when applying for a warrant for the May FBI search.

That search warrant request is sealed to the public. But Burke’s lawyers say the document omitted that the computer sought was the property of the Tampa City Council. They argued that the omission calls into question whether the search followed federal legal protocols, the Times previously reported.

Government agents sought Hurtak’s city computer because they suspected Burke may have used it, the lawyers wrote.

Hurtak did not respond when asked about the laptop. Through Rasch, she said Burke “does not use that computer.”

The Tampa home of District 3 council member Lynn Hurtak seen on May 8, 2023.
The Tampa home of District 3 council member Lynn Hurtak seen on May 8, 2023. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

“I am confident in my husband’s innocence, and I support him completely,” Hurtak said in a February statement when Burke was indicted on 14 federal charges, including conspiracy; accessing a protected computer without authorization; and intercepting or disclosing wire, oral or electronic communications.

Burke and his attorneys insist that he did nothing wrong, arguing that he accessed the videos — as a journalist — using login credentials posted on a public website.

They also argued government agents erred when they failed to mention Hurtak’s name and position when they applied for the search warrant.

“That’s the real issue to me,” Rasch said. “It’s not whether they seized the City Council computer, it’s that they didn’t tell the magistrate that was a possibility.”

“They never told the magistrate that (Hurtak) was an elected official,” he added.

Prosecutors have asserted that the search followed protocol.

Related: Who is Tim Burke? How the feds cracked down on the Tampa media figure.

Hurtak joined the City Council in April 2022 after John Dingfelder resigned. A little over a year later, she defeated former state legislator Janet Cruz to keep her citywide seat. Burke acted as her campaign manager.

Nine days later, a U.S. magistrate judge issued a search warrant for her and Burke’s address.

Less than a week later, FBI agents were at her door.

Hurtak didn’t inform city officials that federal agents had sought her council laptop, the technology department said via a city spokesperson.

Rasch said he and Hurtak don’t know what the FBI did with the city laptop while possessing it. Her campaign and personal computers have since been returned. Burke is asking the court for the return of his seized computers and other devices.

Two weeks after the search, the city’s technology department replaced her laptop at Hurtak’s request, per city records. She wanted a smaller model.

Media consultant Tim Burke in his home office at the Seminole Heights home that he shares with his wife, Tampa City Council member Lynn Hurtak, last July. Two months prior, FBI agents executed a search warrant at the address.
Media consultant Tim Burke in his home office at the Seminole Heights home that he shares with his wife, Tampa City Council member Lynn Hurtak, last July. Two months prior, FBI agents executed a search warrant at the address. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]