The former Madison County Board chairman and former county administrator on Thursday both denied County Board Chairman Kurt Prenzler’s claims that they deleted office computer files prior to leaving office.
In a press release Wednesday, Prenzler said he asked State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons to investigate former County Board chairman, Alan Dunstan, and county administrator, Joe Parente, allegedly destroying information on their hard drives prior to leaving the county offices. The release states the information includes documents subject to retention under state law and court order.
In interviews, Dunstan and Parente said they followed the county’s procedures for preserving their computer data.
“Our computers were operating, they had all the files on them, they had backups available,” Parente said. “In addition to that, prior to leaving office, we asked the IT department to come in and make a copy of each computer and put it in their archives, and they did that. So we did everything properly, we left all the information to them, so it’s simply not true.”
Dunstan called the allegations “outrageous.”
“There’s no missing files or anything of that nature,” he said. “I think this is kind of like a Donald Trump looking for President Obama wiretapping or something.”
Parente said he believes Prenzler is referring to an old computer that had been stripped of its information prior to being recycled, a county requirement because some files contain personal information such as Social Security numbers. Information on the old computers is transferred to the new ones prior to recycling. Parente’s computer was replaced in June 2016, which he said corresponded to a 5-year cycle for replacing computers.
In the press release, Prenzler said he presented a notice to preserve electronic information to Parente on Nov. 15, 2016, shortly after Prenzler was elected.
The release states County Administrator Doug Hulme made the discovery in late December after a conversation with newly appointed Treasurer Chris Slusser and IT Director Rob Dorman. Slusser asked about removing computers marked as FBI evidence from storage in Slusser’s office. The release states the computers were used in the investigation of former Treasurer Fred Bathon, who went to federal prison for rigging tax sales.
Hulme told Dorman to segregate information on the hard drives for Freedom of Information Act requests, and asked for the same procedure for computers used by Dunstan and Parente. When IT staff tried to retrieve the information on the hard drives for Dunstan and Parente, there was limited information, according to the release.
The release states Dorman contacted a Denver company, DataTech Labs Data Recovery, which specializes in recovering information from hard drives for government agencies. The hard drives were sent to the company in January for inspection.
Since the discovery of the alleged missing materials, Hulme has received an FOIA request for information stored on Dunstan and Parente’s computer, according to the release.
Gibbons said because the evidence has been handled by non-law enforcement personnel, a potential investigation may be compromised because the evidence likely would be inadmissible in court.
“I think it’s outrageous that there’s been a 3- or 4-month delay in reporting the information, a critical time when law enforcement would have been the only appropriate individuals to be involved in such an investigation, and now I find out that the evidence in the case has been sent outside of the county, that there’s been no involvement of law enforcement in an investigation for months, and I have grave concerns that any evidence that might have been usable in the event crimes were committed may have been spoiled by the administration by their failure to have law enforcement involved from the very beginning,” Gibbons said.
“The problem with computers is, once you turn them on, they change," he said. "There are very particular forensic procedures that have to be followed for law enforcement to ensure admissibility in court and I’m very much concerned about what has happened since December and why it took all the way until March 15 for this information to be relayed while we had all that time where we could have had law enforcement agents and proper investigators and forensic technicians going through this evidence.”
After receiving the initial investigation request Wednesday, Gibbons said he asked Prenzler to provide more information. As of Friday afternoon, Gibbons said he had not received a response.
Dunstan said Prenzler is trying to deflect attention from controversies during his administration, including questions over the legality of a Dec. 5 re-organizational meeting when new County Board members were sworn in and criticism about hiring department heads with fewer qualifications for higher salaries than their predecessors.
“He has a mess over there,” Dunstan said.
“He’s looking all over the place trying to find that everybody did something wrong,” he said. “We had a good operation over there, and I’m proud of the people that were working over there.
“If he’s going to start taking me on, then I’m going to start looking at what he’s doing and I’m going to start taking him on,” he said.