SARASOTA – At a press conference Thursday, John Torraco, candidate for State Attorney in 12th Judicial Circuit, called on the Governor’s Office and the Office of Florida’s Attorney General to conduct a special investigation into the unlawful Driver and Vehicle Information Database (DAVID) searches run on him by the SAO, and what he called a "subsequent cover-up" by his opponent's office.
The unlawful breach came to the attention of the SAO office, of which Torraco's opponent Ed Brodsky is Chief Deputy, on or about July 23, 2012. The SAO sent an internal memo to staff regarding the procedures involving the DAVID searches, but did nothing more for almost two months, finally acting only when prompted by FDLE on September 18 of this year.
The office finally responded with a simple and uninvestigated conclusion that "there was no intent to misuse the information against Mr. Torraco." However, the records obtained from Brodsky’s Office indicate that they did not even contact the staff person who ran five of the illegal searches until October 2, almost two weeks after they concluded the investigation.
“This is about justice, not politics,” Torraco said. “The unauthorized access of the DAVID database by Brodsky’s Office is clearly politically motivated. Even more troubling is the cover-up done by the State Attorney’s Office. I am calling for an independent investigation into this cover-up because justice must be served.”
The State Attorney’s Office unlawfully accessed the DAVID governmental database a total of six times on the chief deputy's opponent in the SAO race, starting in August of 2011 and ending in March of 2012. After the supposed investigation, FDLE instructed the SAO to inform Torraco of the unlawful searches, which Torraco says has yet to be done.
“I’m calling on Governor Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi to do the right thing and follow the precedent they set in the Jarvis DAVID search case,” Torraco continued. “The citizens of Manatee, Sarasota and DeSoto Counties deserve far better. The mismanagement and obstruction coming from the State Attorney’s Office cannot be tolerated. This cover-up is a serious matter and it warrants a thorough investigation from an independent authority.”
Earlier this year, Governor Scott called for an investigation into 3rd Circuit State Attorney Skip Jarvis, a Democrat, for accessing the DAVID system to conduct numerous background checks on his political opponents. Scott appointed another district's State Attorney to investigate Jarvis, leading to Jarvis dropping out of the race in lieu of a grand jury. Torraco questioned why a similar approach was not being taken under these similar circumstances.
“It is hoped that politics is not behind the fact that the Republican Governor and the Republican Attorney General so far refuse to take action,” Torraco said. “There should be no double standard here. Given the fact that AG Bondi has endorsed Ed Brodsky, this is even more of a reason for them to do the right thing and appoint an independent investigator to look at the facts and prosecute the case accordingly.”
When TBT investigated the story earlier this month, Mr. Brodsky referred all questions to the office's Executive Director, Jennifer Moran. Moran said that the first five unlawful searches on Torraco's record were initiated by an employee who had since left the office. Moran said that while she did speak with the former employee, she was unable to ascertain why the inquires were made. “She wouldn't give a reason why she ran the searches,” Moran said, and could only say that Torraco's record had not been altered or tampered with in any way.
Torraco points out that if the employee had been asked to check his record to see if something could be used against him in the campaign, the wrongdoing is in illegally accessing it, and says that if they simply found nothing that could be used, it doesn't negate the fact the system was abused. He says the fact that they reported their findings before they even spoke with that individual is proof that only an outside investigation can uncover what really happened.
Moran then said that the query run this March was by a different employee who said she'd “heard Torraco was running and wanted to see what he looked like.” Moran said that employee, who happens to be Brodsky's assistant, had since been "verbally reprimanded." Six minutes after the March 15 query by the SAO office, another query was made by the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office, a law enforcement agency within the 12th Circuit that routinely works with the State Attorney’s office. SCSO Spokeswoman Wendy Rose told TBT earlier this month that the query was made by an employee stationed at the courthouse who routinely utilized the system for a variety of purposes related to their post.
When asked what some of those reasons might be, Ms. Rose explained that DAVID is used at the site for such things as verifying identification for a security purpose, or at the request of an officer of the court when related to a proceeding, or even if there is a suspicious vehicle on the grounds. She acknowledged that none of the example reasons she gave were the case with Mr. Torraco and said that the employee who accessed his record could not remember why they did so. When asked by what means the department was then certain that the query was legitimate, she said that they had reviewed the DAVID pulls by that employee over a period of several months and didn't see anything that they felt was "irregular."
Despite the fact that both offices were aware of the query(s) made by the other, both Moran and Rose said that no effort was made to determine whether they were made in concert, or whether there was a relationship of any kind between the employees who'd pulled Torraco's record only six minutes apart, neither able to provide a valid reason as to why. Torraco said this is further proof that the misuse of the system was never fully investigated and that only a thorough, outside investigation will be able to determine if Brodsky was involved in the illegal use of his DAVID record.
“You have a situation where a candidate is a victim and the office in question is that of his opponent, and yet it's his opponent that's in charge of essentially investigating himself,” Torraco said. “Every step of the way, from failing and then refusing to notify me of the breach, to making a determination prior to even interviewing the former employee or conducting anything remotely resembling an investigation, they've demonstrated that they have no interest in following the law or finding out what happened. Had FDLE not forced their hand to at least go through the motions, I think it's clear that six illegal breaches would have been swept completely under the rug.”
Brodsky and Torraco face off in the November 6 State Attorney Race for the 12th Judicial Circuit, which includes Sarasota, Manatee and DeSoto counties. Incumbent 12th Circuit State Attorney Earl Moreland is not seeking reelection.
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