Special prosecutor to probe former county attorney’s ‘data wipe’

Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens has appointed a special prosecutor to investigate claims that former Fayette County Attorney Scott Bennett had official public records wiped from the hard drives of his county-issued computers in violation of the Georgia Open Records Act.

The case began in January as Fayette County Commission Chairman Steve Brown attempted to review documents on Bennett’s desktop computer after Bennett had finished his last day with the county. Brown has claimed that the computer wouldn’t even boot up and it was soon determined that the hard drive had been removed.

An investigation ensued by the Fayette County Marshals Department and Bennett turned in both the removed hard drive and his former laptop, both of which had missing data, according to a marshals department report.

Bennett and Brown had often clashed over legal matters involving the county in the prior two years, and Bennett previously has contended that the reason the documents were wiped is because he knew Brown would snoop through them looking for information to discredit him.

Bennett also has contended that all of his emails were archived by the county’s email system and there were hard copies of all legal and other documents stored in his county office.

Brown at the time of the incident claimed that removal of the hard drive was “theft of county property.” The marshal’s department later determined that theft was not an issue in this case since Bennett had the permission of former County Manager Jack Krakeel to take the desktop hard drive and the laptop elsewhere to have the old data removed.

The County Commission voted April 11 to forward investigative materials in the case to county State Court Solicitor Jamie Inagawa, who handles misdemeanor cases in Fayette County State Court. Inagawa then forwarded the case to the office of Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens, who decided to appoint Charles Spahos or his designee to handle potential prosecution of the case.

Spahos is the executive director of the Prosecuting Attorneys Council of Georgia.

Some might consider it suspicious that Bennett’s hard drives weren’t wiped by county personnel, as he took them off-site to presumably be wiped by a private company. The county apparently did not make a routine backup of Bennett’s computers, either, as there is no such reference made in the detailed investigation conducted by the marshal’s department.

As for what was on the hard drives prior to them being wiped, Bennett has said most of the documents were drafts and legal notes such as excerpts from cases germane to legal filings he presented on the county’s behalf.

Bennett told The Citizen in January that he worried about cached data such as health information and social security numbers being on the hard drives, one of his reasons for having the drives wiped.

Frequent Bennett critic and fellow attorney Wayne Kendall has contended that Bennett wanted evidence erased from the hard drives of how Bennett represented several clients in other courts while he was serving as the county’s full-time staff attorney, which would have violated his initial employment contract.

Kendall and Bennett have clashed in court, first in the district voting lawsuit filed by the NAACP and later in a filing in Fayette County Superior Court in which Kendall asked a judge to overturn a late amendment to Bennett’s contract as he was being transitioned out of the role by the end of December. The judge, however, declined to overturn the amendment which previously had been approved by the county commission.

The politics of the commission shifted in January with three new members coming on board, and the three commissioners who had supported Bennett in the past ending their terms of office.

Steve Brown
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He was, indeed, correct

Wayne Kendall was correct about Scott Bennett violating his employment contract by handling outside cases. Several of us had been tipped off and that is most likely why Bennett decided that violating the Open Records Act was worth the risk. Bennett's alternative was losing a sizable golden parachute given to him by Frady, Horgan and Hearn.

Unfortunately for Bennett, he had to give personal instructions to the board in executive session on how he could get his payout and avoid legal trouble. This counseling in executive session for personal gain could cost him dearly.

You can imagine why Bennett took that hard drive out of the building as there was a lot at risk. By the way, Bennett took the hard drive days prior to his last official day (which he did not show-up for the last couple of days).

Bennett's contract agreement is clearly between the Board of Commissioners and the County Attorney. It was abundantly clear in the contract and the organizational chart that Bennett was a direct report to the Board of Commissioners. Jack Krakeel did a "no-no" by erasing his hard drive too as he is also a direct report to the Board of Commissioners. No permission was granted in either case. Both cases were violations of the Open Records Act.

There was also Bennett's arrangement of the lawsuit where the county was suing itself to get a new district map approved through the Federal Judge in Newnan. The correspondence between Bennett and Lindsey was obvious that the Bennett was driving the lawsuit by supplying the documentation for litigation and supplying direction.

Krakeel began creating the infamous Early Retirement Incentive Plan (ERIP) long before the Board of Commissioners gave him permission. Another big "no-no" was Krakeel never disclosed he was taking the ERIP himself until AFTER it was approved. I had requested more information and none of the pertinent data was handed over until after the ERIP was approved. Once Krakeel announced he was taking the ERIP that he created, I ask the Board of Commissioners to move forward with a formal investigation, but was voted down.

Bennett even sued Henry County and the City of Buford for private clients while he was employed as our county attorney. I wrote both governments letters of apology.

It will be interesting to have some of these parties under oath with the Horgan lawsuit and this investigation.

Wayne Kendall was correct related to Bennett on violating his contract and creating a trumped-up lawsuit against the county to obtain a predetermined settlement.

Husband and Fat...
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Mr. Chairman

Can you please explain the penalties that are applied for each of the potential charges?

Is Krakeel also under investigation?

conditon55
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Reassured sleeping well

As is the case for so many of the causes champion by our county council and chairman, the people of the county can sleep well assured that they are on the watch protecting the people of the county from egregious wrongs.

It is the same tiresome story. The other guys is a moron or a crook. And I am the force of righteousness in the universe. Blah, Blah, Blah.

Having said that, isn't it only right for the people of the county to expect the council members and chairman to hold themselves to the same standards ?

For East Fayetteville ByPass, West Fayetteville ByPass, Pine Woods Studios development, and so on.

No back room secret meetings - every thing above board and so on.

And if it comes to pass that the dealings are let's say, less than noble, what should be the reaction and recourse of the people ?

Or is it to be that when ethics are violated, there will be a spilt vote and no disciplinary action?

conditon55
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Reassured sleeping well

As is the case for so many of the causes champion by our county council and chairman, the people of the county can sleep well assured that they are on the watch protecting the people of the county from egregious wrongs.

It is the same tiresome story. The other guys is a moron or a crook. And I am the force of righteousness in the universe. Blah, Blah, Blah.

Having said that, isn't it only right for the people of the county to expect the council members and chairman to hold themselves to the same standards ?

For East Fayetteville ByPass, West Fayetteville ByPass, Pine Woods Studios development, and so on.

No back room secret meetings - every thing above board and so on.

And if it comes to pass that the dealings are let's say, less than noble, what should be the reaction and recourse of the people ?

Or is it to be that when ethics are violated, there will be a spilt vote and no disciplinary action?

Husband and Fat...
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Condition55 - I want to know

What the penalties are if found in the wrong. It just seems to me that this is a personal battle being fought with our tax dollars and will garner what result. Another slap on the wrist?

Where was Brown a month or two before the end of term checking that all protocols are in place for a smooth transition?

Spyglass
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Agreed, what is the end game here?

On the surface, it seems petty to me.

PTC Observer
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On Mr. Bennett

Former County Manager Jack Krakeel is also involved in removing and destroying county property. When Mr. Krakeel erased his own county owned hard drive, then "authorized" Mr. Bennett to destroy county owned records on a county owned computer, he destroyed more than data.

If the special prosecutor does his/her job, they should not investigate whether or not property was destroyed this is clear. They should investigate what, if anything, these two were attempting to hide.

What they were attempting to hide, if anything, we may never know. Through their own incompetent actions they only destroyed what men should hold most dear, their honor and their good name. However, perhaps they don't care because they have neither. This is what a special prosecutor should determine.

Husband and Fat...
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PTCO. 100% with you

100 % right

Krakeel should be the one investigated since he was the county manager who authorized the destruction.

After so many years of service, he threw his honor away and made himself look guilty of something.

Bennett is the pawn Brown used because he dispisses him.

What we don't know, and I have not been able to find it on line, is what the policy states about computer and email backup and who is responsible for saving the data.

I have worked for big and small clients, all have protocols in place to save and store everyone's work and emails and this is saved for how many years is required by law or by necessity.

It doesn't appear that FC has any protocols in place or they were severely derelict in monitoring this. Lets see if Stevie Boy will be transparent and make it right by backing up all electronic devices and preventing the use of personal emails dealing with county business.

Larry.Sussberg
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PTC Needs Policies too - "Haddix Rules"

We need a revision of ethics policies in Peachtree City too, let's cover...

1-Elected officials using city email. Same policy should apply to city employees as elected officials - then our mayor can't write "nasties" about our past mayor(s) such as "part drunk". If a city employee is subject to termination, then an elected official should be subject to immediate recall!

2-GIRMA submissions - must be approved by a vote of city council, no more "lone ranger" submissions to get reimbursed for a private lawsuit, like our current mayor did, which was below the deductible resulting in the tax payers paying for it.

So, PTC City Council - who is working on revisions to prevent this stuff from happening in the future since common sense doesn't prevail?

Robert W. Morgan
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PTC needs policies too; funny Larry

No one is focused on governing or managing right now - certainly not da mayor or the city manager. Just wait until November or January and ask again. Nobody is home right now.

I assume after Logsdon is elected he will either bring back Bernie or Jim Williams or possibly recruit Steve Rapson or Joe Morton for city manager. All except Bernie are mighty fine with me. I think if George gets elected he will leave Pennington in place. Ditto for Vanessa.

I'm voting for Harold. You should too.

Husband and Fat...
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Electronic Policies

As established by the Georgia Constitution and the Official Code of Georgia, County Commissioners in this State, including Fayette County, are charged with the responsibility of providing a system of local government services designed to ”protect the health, safety, and welfare” of their citizens. County Commissioners are empowered to make policy and pass laws if necessary in order to meet their responsibilities.

In Fayette County, the County Administrator is an employee appointed by the Board of Commissioners who is charged with the responsibility of implementing and administering the policies and procedures established by the Board of Commissioners. He/She is responsible for the successful day-to-day operation of the county government, other than those departments headed by one of the other Constitutional Officers.

To better understand the relationship between the Board of Commissioners and the County Administrator, think of the Commissioners as a company’s Board of Directors which makes fiscal and policy decisions on how the company will be run .Then think of the County Administrator as the company’s general manager who is responsible for seeing that the decisions of the Board are administered and successfully carried out throughout the organization on a day-to-day basis.

Since the county did not make routine backup of the county issued computer, the county either failed to have a policy in place or they failed to manage the policy.

If I remember correctly, Mr. Bennett was advised to go off site to get his computer wiped because no one was available at the end of the year due to vacation days. (More poor management)

Employees expect their data to be saved on the server. If the emails are archived and hard copies of work is stored, then its the countys fault for not having policies in place or managing the policies. Seems to me that the case could be closed and a lot of time and money spent on someones personal vendetta.

Seems like our commissioners need to address our electronic policies.

Husband and Fat...
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Policies not in place or not followed

Bennett was wrong for whiping it clean.

But the bottom line is that the county either failed to have a policy in place to backup every computer or someone failed to monitor the policy.

I trust and respect Mr. Olen's decision to inspect further, but I would like to know the potential ramifications for the possible findings. Are we talking disbarment or a slap on the wrist. This seems like a personal battle being fought with my tax dollars.

What we need is a policy and monitoring set in place to backup and store every county issued electronic device. Including county attorneys, administrators, and commissioners. A policy must be in place to also forbid any official from utilizing personal email accounts for county business. Lets see how fast the transparent guys put this no brainer in place.

Robert W. Morgan
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Movin' on up! Movin' on up! to the State level

This should be a pretty clear indicator that our very own Steve Brown has political clout at the State level. Mystery is why, but leave that for another time.

The dude has enough clout to get AG Olens to do this. Obviously a silly useless pursuit since the hard drive was wiped and no data can be recovered - only a witch hunt to persecute Bennett and a vehicle to promote Brown's image- super duper crime fighter.

Yes indeed, our boy wonder is on his way up the political ladder. Don't think he can beat Ramsey. Or Ronnie Chance. Westmoreland may retire and I am sure his ego is looking at that, LOL. Hey, how about Insurance Commissioner? Is there a state level dog park Czar?

johenry
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Pot head Horgan and sneaky attorney Scott Bennett

Never have two people been more suited for one another.

Duh, why do you think the sneaky attorney took his hard drive out of the office and erased??? Hopefully we will see some justice.