Expedia employees: We were left in the dark about bathroom spy cams

Employees at Expedia's headquarters in Seattle said they were unaware of an investigation into the cameras found in two bathrooms until the news surfaced online – weeks after the devices were first reported.

According to court documents, an employee raised the alarm about suspicious devices in the restrooms – but the company known for providing travel deals and bookings failed to respond for over a month.

Marcelo F. Vargas-Fernandez, a 42-year-old former Expedia employee, was charged with voyeurism after he allegedly placed two cameras under sinks in two all-gender restrooms on campus between December and January.

Seattle Police Department (SPD) investigators said the cameras were installed specifically to “observe the private use and genitals of restroom users.” Expedia Security first contacted SPD about the incidents on January 11th. After an investigation, police arrested Vargas-Fernandez on February 1 at his home in Lynnwood.

At least 10 male and female victims have been identified so far, according to court records. This number is expected to increase.

Employees say Expedia was slow to respond

An employee at Expedia's Seattle headquarters said on condition of anonymity that KIRO Newsradio's corporate executives did not address the incidents until they were first reported by national technology news site Geekwire on Tuesday.

Screenshots of an employee-wide Slack channel at headquarters in Seattle show that many employees expressed shock and anger at the information Tuesday afternoon.

One commented in the thread: “This definitely feels like something that should have been communicated to staff and not buried.”

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Another added: “I would like to know which bathrooms we shouldn't know if there are other potential victims?”

Sridhar Sukumaran – vice president of human resources at Expedia Group – quickly responded with a message confirming that the company had recently investigated “an incident.”

“While we do not typically comment on ongoing investigations, we felt it necessary to provide an update on this sensitive matter since it occurred on campus,” he wrote. “Regarding this issue, we took immediate action upon discovering the issue and contacted local law enforcement.”

However, court documents related to the investigation tell a different story.

Expedia warned about cameras weeks before contacting police

An SPD report states that Expedia security guards were alerted to a suspicious device in one of the bathrooms, but the company did not involve police until almost six weeks later.

According to the report, on Dec. 4, an Expedia Vanpool driver identified only as “HS” first discovered “a white box with a cell phone-like device attached” under the sink in the bathrooms. HS described seeing a camera lens and alerted the security desk. He was reportedly told that someone would “take care of it.”

This device was seized by the Seattle Police Department in January, believed to be a spy camera installed in a bathroom at Expedia's headquarters in Seattle. (Photo courtesy of the Seattle Police Department)

Expedia Group has a contract with a company called Securitas, and an official took a photo of the device.

But according to the SPD report, “the security officers decided not to take the devices because at the time they thought it was a music device or a battery backup for the soap dispensers.”

The next day, HS checked the bathrooms again and found the appliances were missing. When he asked security if they had removed them, they told him they had not, according to court documents.

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Weeks later the cameras show up again

On January 11, another Vanpool employee named “MT” HS alerted to similar devices in the same two bathrooms. Investigators said HS alerted security again and “pointed out an individual who he suspected was acting suspiciously and who had returned twice to attempt to use both restrooms after (HS and MT) found the devices.” and closed the toilets for use until security arrived.”

Expedia security contacted SPD, who confiscated the devices as evidence. After reviewing indoor security surveillance videos, investigators observed a person they identified as Vargas-Fernandez entering and exiting restrooms on the morning of Jan. 11, holding what appeared to be suspicious devices.

SPD said Vargas-Fernandez purchased two spy cameras on Amazon in October that matched the description of the cameras found in the bathrooms. When first interviewed by police after his arrest on Feb. 1, Vargas-Fernandez denied involvement, according to the affidavit. He claimed he used spy cameras for personal protection and had previously used them to monitor his ex-wife without her knowledge during divorce proceedings.

Image: This device was seized by the Seattle Police Department in January, believed to be a spy camera installed in a bathroom at Expedia's headquarters in Seattle.

The under-the-sink device was seized by the Seattle Police Department in January, believed to be a spy camera installed in a bathroom at Expedia's headquarters in Seattle. (Photo courtesy of the Seattle Police Department)

During a search of the suspect's home, investigators discovered at least 33 additional spy cameras with the help of a specially trained electronics sniffer dog.

“This dog was able to locate memory cards and similar items as well as electronic devices that could then be evaluated by police,” said Casey McNerthney, spokesman for the King County Prosecutor's Office.

Expedia's response to the investigation

After news of Vargas-Fernandez's arrest broke on Tuesday, Expedia officials told KIRO Newsradio that the company released an internal email shortly thereafter.

Michael Davis Velasco, Expedia Group's chief people, inclusion and diversity officer, wrote in part: “Given the sensitivity of this investigation, we cannot provide additional comment or responses to questions that could jeopardize ongoing security and law enforcement efforts.”

In a public statement, the company repeated these words.

“We continue to take the matter very seriously and are working closely with the relevant authorities.”

The voyeurism charge carries significant penalties if Vargas-Fernandez is convicted, although estimates of possible prison time vary.

His arraignment is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Thursday

You can read more stories from Kate Stone here. Follow Kate on X, formerly known as Twitter, or email her here.

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