Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Files deleted, stolen in firehouse break-in

Case turned over to Idaho attorney general

Express Staff Writer

Dewayne Briscoe

The Sun Valley Police Department has turned over to the Idaho Attorney General's Office an investigation of a potential break-in and burglary of a city fire station in which personnel documents were taken and computer files deleted.

Acting Fire Chief Ray Franco reported the missing records to police March 7.

"It was an internal break-in," said Mayor Dewayne Briscoe. "There was no evidence of external [access]."

The police report is not yet available because the incident is still under investigation, Sun Valley Assistant Police Chief Mike Crawford said Friday.

Bob Cooper, spokesman for the attorney general, declined to confirm or deny whether his office has received the investigation, citing office policy.

Crawford said police investigated two possible incidents of burglary at the Elkhorn Fire Station, one that could have occurred between Feb. 11 and Feb. 19, and the other between Feb. 27 and March 7. Locks to internal office doors showed scratches on the doorjambs, but it is not certain when those markings occurred, he said.

"[Someone] logged in and extensively deleted emails and other correspondence," Briscoe said in an interview. "It would appear documents stolen and things deleted would be things examined in a forensic audit."

He also said it appeared specific dates were targeted, covering the last few years.

Computers or other items were not taken, he said.

Briscoe said he does not know who burglarized the fire station.

"There are no suspects, there are no accusations," he said.

Many people had access to the station, but fewer had administrative access to the computers, he said.

Briscoe publicly revealed the incident at a City Council meeting Thursday, April 19.

He said he revealed the break-in in the interest of transparency about internal issues and because a forensic audit would be impacted by the burglary.

"It's important for citizens to know because of concerns within the Fire Department," he told the Idaho Mountain Express.

Longtime Fire Chief Jeff Carnes has been on paid, administrative leave since last fall, as have Tina Carnes, fire department administrative assistant, and paid on-call firefighter Nick Carnes. City officials have not given a reason for their continued absence, other than to say it is not a disciplinary action.

The city has contracted with Boise-based law firm Moffatt Thomas to oversee a forensic audit. The audit will be performed by the Seattle office of the Newport Beach, Calif.,-based firm Hagen, Streiff, Newton & Oshiro.

"The law firm is directing the auditing firm," Briscoe said. "I have no input into it."

The city's desire to investigate accounting practices and financial transactions was prompted by routine audits and an internal investigation that revealed items that officials felt merited further review.

The city announced in mid-March its intention to pursue a forensic audit of all city departments. The auditors from Seattle began their investigation April 18.

"They're not targeting any particular department," Briscoe said.

Briscoe said the city, through its forensic auditors, will try to determine who accessed the electronic files.

Briscoe said the city is unsure of the extent of what's missing, but it appears that paper documents and electronic correspondence that would typically be investigated during the course of a forensic audit were stolen or deleted from computers, including work-hour and payroll records for Fire Department staff.

Briscoe said Fire Department personnel and payroll records had been stored at the Elkhorn station for many years and through many administrations. He said that when he took office earlier this year, staff began moving those documents to City Hall, but some documents were still at the station at the time of the break-in.

Briscoe said the city has copies of some of the missing documents, but not all.

The Elkhorn station is located in a primarily residential area more than a mile south of City Hall.

Rebecca Meany:

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