Records reveal misuse of database by State Attorney's Office employees

ejohnson@bradenton.comOctober 11, 2012 

MANATEE -- Another issue has been raised by a challenger in the race for state attorney of the 12th Judicial Circuit when it was learned his driving records had been improperly accessed.

After receiving an anonymous letter in April that he should look into people checking his record in the state Driver and Vehicle Information Database (DAVID), Democratic candidate John Torraco filed a records request with the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. When he received the results in September, Torraco said he was "shocked."

Two secretaries at the state attorney's office improperly searched his driving history, records show. An internal investigation was launched in

May, when the office learned about the allegations of misuse, said State Attorney Earl Moreland.

Linda Mockovciak, office manager and assistant to Moreland and Torraco's Republican opponent, Chief Assistant State Attorney Ed Brodsky, received a verbal reprimand after searching in March for Torraco in the state Driver and Vehicle Information Database (DAVID).

"We discovered that she ran it out of curiosity to find out who this person was and realized it was a mistake," Moreland said. "The main thing for us to determine, which we did, is that it was for their own use. It was not disseminated and was not used for illegal or improper motives."

Twelve minutes after Mockovciak ran a search, records show Torraco's name was submitted through DAVID by a Sarasota County Sheriff's Office employee. There is nothing linking the two inquiries.

"It's either clearly related or an unimaginable coincidence," Torraco said.

Another state attorney's office employee left her position before it was discovered she searched for Torraco's information five times from August to December 2011. Torraco said only a handful of people were aware in August of his intentions to run for office.

Torraco is weary of the curiosity defense.

"That's a complete fallacy. It's absurd," Torraco said. "No reasonable person could ever believe that to be the case. If they wanted to see a picture of me, they could go to Facebook."

There is no evidence to support Brodsky's involvement.

"They (Torraco's campaign) have known about this for a while," Brodsky said. "Certainly they're making political fire out of something that is not political and that had nothing to do with me. I did not know that they were making these inquiries into the database. And I would not have condoned or authorized anyone to do that."

Jennifer Moran, executive director for the state attorney's office, said DAVID should be accessed for case-related purposes only. Since the incident, employees have been reminded to attach the case name and number associated with the search for auditing purposes, she said.

"We followed up with a memo to all staff ultimately telling them DAVID is for business purposes only and failure to comply with the policy could lead to disciplinary action up to and including termination," Moran said.

A highway safety spokeswoman said misuse of the system violates the contract between the state attorney's office and department, but that the department was immediately notified of disciplinary actions. How information obtained from the system is used determines if criminal activity is a factor, she said.

Torraco said his deepest concern is that the search provides "everything a criminal would need to commit identity theft," including a photo, address and Social Security number.

"This is another example of an out-of-control state attorney's office that needs new professional leadership," Torraco said. "Citizens of Manatee, Sarasota and DeSoto counties deserved more than my opponent's profound mismanagement and abuse of power."

Brodsky and Moreland both called the incident disappointing.

"These folks are devoted to working every day prosecuting crimes and making our community a safe place to live," Brodsky said. "Unfortunately, we had two individuals that violated our policies."

Moreland, who has endorsed Brodsky, agreed that the issue is surfacing for political reasons.

"It's unfortunate that it's coming out now, and I think that was planned by the opponent," Moreland said. "I hope people see above that. I think there are more significant issues to address."

A similar investigation earlier this year led Robert "Skip" Jarvis, 3rd Judicial Circuit state attorney, to withdraw from his race. Records showed Jarvis personally searched for his opponent in the state system. To avoid prosecution, he agreed to resign at his term's end.

The race for 12th Judicial Circuit State Attorney will be decided at the polls Nov. 6.

Elizabeth Johnson, Herald crime reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041. Follow her on Twitter @EJohnsonBHcrime.

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