Former DA Administration Wiped Hard Drive
In an unusually strong audit finding, Oklahoma State Auditor Gary Jones cited two felony statutes in the context of explaining inaccessible financial records deleted from computer systems used by former District 12 District Attorney Janice Steidley.
Because data was deleted, auditors examining records for fiscal years 2014 and 2015 “could not access financial data prior to December 31, 2014,” the report states.
According to the biannual audit report, routine computerized backups had not been created, and “hard copies of monthly financial reports and ledgers were not retained, limiting the scope of our audit.”
In an effort to recover missing data, auditors contacted the statewide District Attorneys Council. The Council maintains IT equipment on request for district attorneys throughout Oklahoma, and performs backups of information on shared drives.
The Council discovered the missing records had been stored on a local computer drive, contrary to the Council’s policy that records be stored on a shared drive, accessible for backups. The local drive “was completely wiped of all data,” the audit report states.
Matt Ballard, the current District Attorney for Rogers County, arrived in office Jan. 1, 2015 to find six months of unpaid invoices, according to the Claremore Daily Progress. Ballard defeated Steidley in a June, 2014 primary election.
In a management response to the audit finding, Ballard’s administration said “we have devoted significant resources to identifying the source of funds, investigating unpaid invoices and attempting to piece together incomplete financial data.”
No Recommendation for Prosecution
The state auditor’s recommendations in the finding were limited to ensuring that “policies and procedures for the retention and/or maintenance of financial records is strictly adhered to.” It was not the first time auditors had express concerns about the DA’s IT practices.
In a 2013 report, auditors “noted instances in which IT controls were not properly in place to ensure the integrity of computer software systems used.”
The 2013 finding warned that, without IT controls, employees could alter or delete transactions. The previous audit recommended that the office contact a software systems provider for help establishing adequate controls that would prevent employees from deleting transactions.
Although the auditor’s recommendation focused on a need for policies and procedures to assure compliance with applicable laws, the finding criteria cites criminal laws. In financial audits, findings identify conditions that do not conform or comply with criteria.
Partial text of four statutes is cited at the end of the audit, under criteria for the finding of “Inaccessible Financial Records.” The first citation describes the State Auditor’s duty to annually audit District Attorneys’ records for compliance with state and federal law. The second spells out public officials’ duty to keep and maintain records of financial transactions.
Under the Oklahoma Open Records Act, failure to maintain records of public receipts and expenditures can be prosecuted as a misdemeanor. Two other statutes cited as criteria for the finding, in some circumstances, provide for felony prosecution.
Oklahoma Embezzlement Criteria
Embezzlement of State Property, Okla. Stat. tit. 21 § 341, sets out felony penalties for “every public officer…who…[f]raudulently alters, falsifies, cancels, destroys or obliterates any such account.”
From the perspective of an Oklahoma defense attorney, the excerpt of the embezzlement statute cited in the audit omits an important word. The Oklahoma embezzlement statute criminalizes destruction of “such” account. The audit does not reference the word “such” nor does it allude to which “such” accounts might be feloniously destroyed.
Oklahoma jury instructions say a person may only be convicted of embezzlement if money appropriated by law was diverted for another purpose. Felony destruction of financial records, under the embezzlement law, might only extend to records that otherwise contain evidence of embezzlement. OUJI-CR 5-29.
The final criteria cited in the audit cites the Oklahoma Computer Crimes Act. Under Okla. Stat. tit. 21 § 1953(A)(1) it is a felony to willfully:
- exceed the limits of authorization and… delete… a computer system.
- without authorization disrupt computer services… or deny or cause the denial of access… to an authorized user…
- without authorization provide or assist in providing a means of accessing a computer, computer system or computer network in violation of this section.
Felony violations of the Oklahoma Computer Crimes Act can be punished by up to 10 years in prison, or $100,000 in fines. A felony embezzlement conviction can net 20 years.
The seven findings in the fiscal 2014-2015 audit, although potentially more egregious in their criteria, were fewer in number than 14 findings listed in a 2014 audit that covered fiscal 2010-2013. Boilerplate language in each audit says “we do not intend to imply there were not commendable features” in the District’s accounting and operations.
In the previous audit, Steidley’s administration attributed some conditions in the 14 findings to “[p]rior administration.” In response to a finding of insufficient IT controls, the management response stated, “This office will limit employees’ access in computer system to certain administration tools.”
Probationers Paid for Newspaper Ad
Other findings in the latest Rogers County District Attorney audit included $81,448 in bogus check restitution balances that could not be identified. The could mean bogus check victims might not have received restitution defendants had paid to the DA’s office.
In March, 2014, “the former District Attorney purchased a full page ad in the local newspaper” using $939 in Supervision Fee funds. Those fees are paid by people on probation under supervision of the DA’s office.
“Our office questions this transaction due to the timing and nature of this expense. The ad appears to espouse the accomplishments of the former District Attorney’s office during a highly contested campaign year” the audit states.
The Daily Progress reported that Jones will forward the report to the Oklahoma Attorney General’s office. The AG’s office declined to comment pending its review of the audit.
Oklahoma’s Judicial District 12 comprises Rogers, Mayes and Craig counties. The two-year audit period included the final 18 months during which Steidley was District Attorney, and the first six months of Ballard’s administration.
Without accounting records that were apparently deleted from DA computers, for much of the audit report auditors relied on information the DA’s office had provided the county commission. Ballard reportedly said his office has revised IT procedures in keeping with the auditors’ advice.
Jones reportedly told the Daily Progress it is unusual for a District Attorney to keep records only on a local hard drive, then remove the information by replacing the operating system.
What About Rogers County Criminal Records?
When financial records are reported missing from a DA’s office, one wonders what else might be missing. One would hope records of prosecutions, probation supervision and other non-financial activities would be maintained.
All we can say about that is, you never know until you ask. Until we have a reason to inquire, we might not know. If you have been charged with a crime in Rogers, Mayes or Craig counties, you might need to know what kind of record the District Attorneys office does or does not have available to use in your prosecution.
If you are on probation under a deferred prosecution agreement, records of your agreement matter. Details of the agreement are kept in court files, but records of your compliance with court-ordered payments might be in District Attorney financial records, some of which might be missing.
Free Consultation: Oklahoma Defense Attorneys
We’re not saying the audit is a get out of jail free card for anyone facing a motion to accelerate or application to revoke probation in Rogers County. Far from it. But any appearance in Rogers, Mayes or Craig County criminal proceedings should be viewed in light of ongoing controversy that has plagued District 12 in recent years.