In My Opinion

Fred Grimm: Ex-sheriff’s data cleanup crew hammered away at their job

 

fgrimm@MiamiHerald.com

Me, you, all of us have spent hours in maddening discourse with the company computer help desk only to realize that the solution to our problems was receding deeper into unfathomable complexities.

That’s because we don’t work at the Broward Sheriff’s Office.

At BSO, the help desk motto apparently goes something like this: “Why bother with complicated software solutions when a sledgehammer’s handy?”

BSO’s rather blunt methodology was revealed during an internal affairs investigation into the disappearance of information that had been stored on former Sheriff Al Lamberti’s office computer.

HAMMERING AWAY

According to the IA report released last week, after Lamberti’s reelection campaign had been thwarted by Scott Israel in November 2012, Lamberti or his lackeys decided that the public need not be privy to emails and other files on the outgoing sheriff’s blue Dell XPS desktop computer. So it was off to the help desk.

BSO techies Anthony Petruzzi and Omar Battista were assigned the task. They proved to be a bit more heavy-handed than your usual geeks. None of that “data wiping” software for these guys. They did it the old-fashioned way.

“Battisti advised that he recalled Mr. Petruzzi requesting assistance to remove and destroy a hard drive. . . Battista stated that the drive was removed and destroyed by ‘smashing’ it with a hammer,” according to the IA report. Battista went at Lamberti’s hard drive with such zest that he cut his hand.

LITTLE TO SHOW

BSO Sgt. Don Prichard, who had overseen the cleansing of the computer, insisted that he had only expected the techies to “wipe it clean,” not pound it into bloody oblivion. Prichard also claimed that he told the computer whizzes that before the big wipe, they should burn the hard drive’s info onto compact disks. He told IA that he sent four CD-Rs to the BSO archives (Although four CDs could hardly contain a day’s worth of dancing cat videos.).

IA could locate only a single disk containing 97 emails. Apparently, former Sheriff Lamberti was not exactly computer loquacious.

Pounding a hard drive with a hammer may be effective (and apparently legal, given that IA classified its findings as “police information until which time evidence of a crime exists”) but it’s a dubious-looking exercise for an ousted regime in its final days. Just a bit too reminiscent of the German domestic spy network during the collapse of the Soviet bloc in 1989, when Stasi agents frantically tried to burn and shred incriminating files.

A ROTHSTEIN LINK?

Oh, but bloggers do abhor a vacuum. They’ve been speculating that the disappeared files might have linked Lamberti to Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein, who famously had co-opted BSO deputies as his private police force. Lamberti’s own executive officer, Lt. David Benjamin, and another deputy pleaded guilty in May to federal charges that they arranged a woman’s trumped-up arrest at Rothstein’s behest. Of course, no one actually knows what was on the hard drive that the BSO techies destroyed. They told IA investigators that they hadn’t read any of the ex-sheriff’s stuff. They just went at it with a blunt instrument.

Read more Fred Grimm stories from the Miami Herald

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