Unauthorized computer access allegations probe
Investigation to center on accusations made by Executive Hein, Comptroller Auerbach against each other
Officials could know soon whether the county’s two top elected officials gained access to each other’s computer files.
KINGSTON, N.Y. » Ulster County legislators could know within the next month whether the county’s two top elected officials gained access to each other’s computer files.
Members of the Legislature’s Ways and Means Committee voted unanimously Thursday to hire Eisner-Amper LLP, of New York City, to investigate and also review county policy and procedure review.
The company will be paid $38,900 to get to the bottom of the allegations, which have been lobbed between Ulster County Executive Michael Hein and county Comptroller Elliott Auerbach, both elected Democrats.
The firm is expected soon to begin its work and to deliver its findings to the Ways and Means Committee within three weeks if Auerbach and Hein cooperate with the probe.
“It’s ... sad that it’s come down to this, that we had to step in here and ascertain what’s going on here,” said Minority Leader Hector Rodriguez, D-New Paltz. “It’s unfortunate, but we’re trying to make the best of what is a very sad situation.”
In August, Hein and Auerbach, each claimed the other had gained unauthorized and potentially illegal access to computer files of the other.
Hein said Auerbach routinely gained unauthorized and potentially illegal access to dozens of files hundreds of times between March and May. The alleged incursions included access to memos to the Finance Department from the county attorney, files containing Finance Department notes being compiled in response to a comptroller’s audit and a file entitled “critical examples of Comptroller Elliott Auerbach.”
Auerbach accused the Hein administration of going into the hard drive of the comptroller’s computer service to extract record-
ings of telephone conversations that Auerbach surreptitiously made of his conversations with a county legislator, the clerk of the Legislature and a member of the public.
Deputy County Executive Ken Crannell said the Hein administration has reported its suspicions to the county’s compliance officer and is working to determine exactly what information was accessed.
Ulster County District
Attorney Holley Carnright has sent complaints he received from Auerbach and Hein to the state attorney general.
The state Attorney General’s Office has not responded to Freeman queries about the request.
According to the proposal, Eisner-Amper will conduct a forensic investigation to determine if the staff of the Comptroller’s Office gained unauthorized access to Finance Department files and, if they did, what files were accessed, how the comptroller gained access and who granted the access.
The company will also investigate whether the county’s Information Technology Department — which is part of the Hein administration — accessed comptroller files, and, if it did, what files were accessed and by who they were accessed.
Additionally, the company will look to see if any access occurred that might warrant further investigation or disciplinary action.
Since the alleged data breach occurred, an Information Services employee who was asked how the Comptroller’s Office gained unrestricted
access to the Finance Department’s files, abruptly retired and Alicia DeMarco, the comptroller’s director of audit and internal control, and one of three employees accessing those files, resigned from her position.
Auerbach has said his office did nothing wrong in accessing those files, because, he said, the county charter gives his office the
right to “access any and all county records.” Rather, he said, the issue is being raised as a “red herring” to deflect from the fact that the administration took recorded conversations off the comptroller’s computer and shared them with legislative leadership.
Hein administration officials and Legislature Chairman Ken Ronk, RWallkill, have called Auerbach’s
claims ridiculous and said that, while the charter gives the Comptroller’s Office the ability to “examine, audit and verify all books, records and accounts kept by the administrative units,” that right doesn’t extend to confidential information, including business and personal records, legal correspondence or unfinished work product.