State Attorney Candidate Calls for Investigation Into 'Unlawful' Search
State Attorney candidate John Torraco wants an independent investigator to look into why his sensitive information was searched without authorization.
State Attorney candidate John Torraco is requesting that Gov. Rick Scott investigate why Torraco's information was searched in a secure state database by the 12th Judicial Circuit's State Attorney Office staff.
Torraco announced the request at a Thursday afternoon press conference, laying out why he thinks this case needs the attention of the governor and State Attorney General Pam Bondi.
"There's no legitimate reason to run those searches—none whatsoever," Torraco said, describing the searches as unlawful.
The searches for Torraco were made in the state's Driver and Vehicle Information Database, which law enforcement call DAVID. Torraco maintains that the only legitimate reason his name should have been searched was either he was under investigation or he was in a car accident, and he hasn't been involved in either.
"The searches in the system were done for clearly politically motives," Torraco said.
When an unauthorized search is made in DAVID, the victim of the breach is required to be notified by the appropriate agency, and Torraco didn't receive official notification until in September.
"Mr. Torraco was not notified of these inquiries because nothing was done with the records," State Attorney Executive Director Jennifer Moran wrote to Marueen Johnson, chief of Motorist Service/Bureau Records in the state department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.
Five searches in 2011 were made in the 12th Judicial Circuit's State Attorney Office in Bradenton, where challenger Chief Assistant State Attorney Ed Brodsky works, but those searches were not performed by Brodsky.
A sixth search on March 15 of this year in the State Attorney Office was followed by a search nine minutes later in the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office.
Brodsky directed all questions to State Attorney Earl Moreland, who said his office is in full compliance with Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles and calls Torraco's request "purely political."
"He could have filed the complaint six months ago," Moreland told Patch. "We've been open and honest about this entire incident from the very beginning. We have nothing to hide, and we'll cooperate with any investigation that gets started."
Torraco said he requested on May 4 for Florida Highway Safety to investigate after receiving information that improper DAVID searches were being performed in the State Attorney office. Torraco said he received that tip after he announced his run for office in April.
"The only one that delayed this process is the State Attorney's office," Torraco said.
The database reveals Torraco's social security number, photo, and date of birth, ownership of cars and previous and current addresses.
"Everything a criminal would need to commit identity theft," he said.
Florida Department of Law Enforcement instructed the State Attorney's Office to complete an internal investigation on Sept. 18, and the internal investigation was completed the same day, despite the State Attorney Office learning of the matter on July 23, according to state emails an Torraco.
However, the staff person, Margarita Makeeva, who requested six of the searches, was not interviewed by the State Attorney's Office until Oct. 2, after the internal investigation was completed, according to documents from the State Attorney office. FDLE never completed its own investigation following the State Attorney's internal investigation, according to Torraco, describing that the report was misleading.
Moreland said he could not "either confirm or tell you the circumstances of that because I wasn't personally involved," and the person who handled the matter, Moran, was unavailable.
Moran told the Bureau of Records at the state's Highway Safety that the staff member was "verbally reprimanded for making the inquiry and told any future non-business related inquiries would result in further disciplinary action up to and including termination of employment."
Makeeva was no longer employed with the State Attorney Office before the revelation of the searches, The Herald-Tribune reports.
According to records, Makeeva spoke to Moran about the matter on Oct. 2 and was hesitant to talk, stated she didn't remember running the record six times, but did say she did complete the searches.
"She stated no one asked her to run the records, and she state nothing was ever done with the record," according to the transcript. "She wouldn't discuss with me the details of the conversation she had that led to her to run the record, but did state several times that she never discussed it with anyone nor did she do anything with the record."
Moran stated in her letter to the Bureau of Records that the State Attorney's Office issued a memorandum to staff that DAVID inquires are for business purposes only, must be logged and improper used could lead to termination.
Torraco said he has not filed an official complaint with FDLE because he spoke with counsel for state Highway Safety who said that it would be best to request an outside State Attorney to investigate.
That's what happened with the 3rd Judicial District State Attorney Skip Jarvis case, and after the governor issued an investigation, Jarvis withdrew from his race and from office at the conclusion of his term to avoid prosecution.
In this case, where staff physically searched instead of a state attorney candidate, it's unclear how it will be handled. Torraco said he isn't sure why the staff wouldn't be charged with a misdemeanor crime.
Because Bondi has endorsed Brodsky, Torraco is requesting an independent investigator to look into the incidents.
The Attorney General has not received Torraco's letter as of Thursday evening, and staff will review Torraco's request when the letter is received, said Jennifer Meale, communications director for the Florida Office of Attorney General .
The governor canceled his events Thursday to attend to his ill mother.