By William Patrick | Florida Watchdog
TALLAHASSEE — The way it’s going, government hard drives might be the next protected class under federal law.
U.S. Internal Revenue Service hard drives containing two years of emails from and to Lois Lerner, the senior tax official at the heart of the alleged political targeting of conservative nonprofits, have been “recycled” and the contents destroyed. So have six of her colleagues’ hard drives. A U.S. House oversight committee is investigating.
Hard drive shenanigans aren’t just a federal issue.
A Broward County Sheriff’s Office internal affairs audit has revealed information contained on outgoing Sheriff Al Lamberti’s hard drive was lost after his subordinates destroyed it with a hammer. The audit was first reported by the Sun-Sentinel newspaper.
No motive was given in the report, but public information could well have been destroyed. Investigators can’t be sure, but complete backup copies of Lamberti’s hard drive were not located.
Hammer + hard drive = no public information. Will Patrick explains.
The incident occurred sometime after Lamberti lost his re-election bid to rival Scott Israel in late 2012 and before Israel replaced him. The Broward Sheriff’s Office has 5,800 employees and a $700 million annual budget.
The report says Lamberti’s executive officer, Sgt. Donald Pritchard, told an employee from BSO’s technology division, Anthony Petruzzi, to destroy the hard drive, which was said to have contained emails, calendar events and other saved items. Petruzzi had been seen by other BSO employees with Lamberti’s blue Dell computer tower and he reportedly told a BSO tech analyst he was supposed to erase it.
Petruzzi enlisted the help of a tech analyst, who ended up cutting himself and leaving blood on the smashed device. They returned it to Pritchard in an envelope. The tech employees attested that the sheriff’s office data-wiping software was incompatible with Lamberti’s hard drive.
Pritchard told investigators he wanted Petruzzi to “make copies of everything that was on file and make CDs of emails and everything that was on the hard drive, and that was put into an archive box up on the fifth floor storage area.”
Pritchard said he put four backup CDs in the archive box. But when he escorted members of the Division of Internal Affairs and the Office of Public Corruption to the storage area of the BSO Public Safety Building, only one CD containing 97 emails was found.
“I then informed Pritchard that emails are contained on network servers, and inquired if he ever accessed Lamberti’s hard drive,” said lead investigator Sgt. Thomas Palmer. Pritchard said no.
Pritchard said he never accessed the CDs, nor had any property receipts for them or for any other items that were supposed to be in the archive box.
“The investigation revealed that no copies were obtained from former Sheriff Lamberti’s computer hard drive,” the audit concludes.
Watchdog.org contacted the Broward Sheriff’s Office for comment, but was told in an email “the investigation speaks for itself.”
The investigation is considered “pending inactive” until “evidence of a crime exists.”
It’s a violation of Florida’s government-transparency laws to destroy public records. State law also requires pubic officials to deliver records to “successor(s) at the expiration of his or her term in office.”
According to the First Amendment Foundation, “the definition for public records is quite broad and includes all materials made or received by an agency in connection with official business.”
“At this point, all you can do is speculate what was there,” attorney Chris Torres of the Tallahassee-based Casey Torres law firm told Watchdog.org.
“You can’t prove something is missing if you don’t know what’s missing,” said Torres, a former prosecutor with the Florida Office of the Attorney General.
Contact William Patrick at [email protected]