Saturday, November 18, 2017
Business

For four years, female employees of a Tampa firm didn't know a top executive had secretly videotaped them in the restroom

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TAMPA — Jeremy Lenkowski worked on computers for MaintenX International and on a November morning in 2010 he wanted a colleague's advice on what to do about some disturbing videos he had found.

Lenkowski asked Gregory Keeler, the company's controller, to meet him in the parking lot of a McDonald's on N Armenia Avenue. Lenkowski pulled out a laptop, set it on the trunk of his car and inserted a memory stick.

Shocked, Keeler watched as the screen lit up with images of female MaintenX employees, including his own assistant. They "were going to the bathroom and doing other things,'' he later recalled. "I couldn't watch the whole thing and told him to turn it off.''

Keeler was stunned, too, when Lenkowski told him where he had found the videos — in a bag belonging to the company's chief financial officer, James Patrick Stanton Jr.

Four years later — still working for MaintenX — Stanton would be arrested on more than 100 felony counts of video voyeurism based on images that showed unsuspecting women using the toilet, changing clothes and showering naked. At the time of his arrest, a company vice president said that "no one on our executive team had any knowledge of this activity.''

That was not correct.

Within days after Lenkowski found the videos, MaintenX CEO Patrick O'Hara learned of the allegations, he later acknowledged. He was upset enough that he confronted Stanton — who neither admitted nor denied the tapings — and told him to get counseling. He had the bathrooms checked for hidden cameras.

Other than that, little happened. O'Hara didn't call police or request a more thorough investigation. He didn't notify the employees whose privacy had been violated. He didn't even ask whether the images included his own wife and stepdaughter, both of whom worked for MaintenX.

Stanton, a married lawyer, wasn't demoted or disciplined. He continued to work around women he was accused of taping. And because too much time had elapsed between the 2010 tapings and Stanton's 2014 arrest, the charges were dropped and the records were sealed from public view.

The search warrant, the arrest affidavit, the booking information — all have disappeared as if there never had been a case against him.

Stanton, 42, declined to comment for this article, and O'Hara did not return calls. But through depositions and lawsuits, it's possible to piece together the story — one with allegations that a judge called "outrageous'' and "very yucky.''

• • •

Headquartered in a century-old former cigar factory in West Tampa, MaintenX bills itself as "one of the largest national facility maintenance and repair companies in the U.S.'' With its own employees and a huge network of subcontractors, it handles electrical, plumbing and other maintenance work for Fortune 500 companies, including Home Depot, CVS and Best Buy.

Around 2003, a few years out of the University of Florida law school, Stanton joined MaintenX as chief financial officer. Among the employees reporting to him was Lenkowski, who worked in information technology.

In late 2010, Lenkowski was asked to repair Stanton's Dell laptop computer. Needing to transfer a data file, he used a memory stick he found with the laptop. When he opened it to see if there was enough storage to hold the file, images of female employees showering and using the toilet suddenly appeared.

"The videos were taken from different angles, at different times and dates,'' Lenkowski said in a lawsuit he filed against Stanton and MaintenX in 2014. "The restrooms and shower at the MaintenX offices were being monitored and recorded digitally. The videos . . . had been culled, renamed, sorted and intentionally saved.''

Stunned and not knowing what do, Lenkowski showed the videos to Keeler. After briefly viewing them, Keeler went to work and "sat in disbelief,'' as he later described it. He, too, was unsure how to proceed, so he called his mother, who advised him to let the company owners decide.

Keeler took the matter to O'Hara, MaintenX's CEO and founder, who said he wanted "a week or two to think about it.'' O'Hara then invited Keeler, Lenkowski and the company's vice president, Juan Carlos Gonzalez, to lunch at a Tampa restaurant.

Accounts of that meeting differ.

In his lawsuit, Lenkowski said he was urged not to notify police because "it would hurt the women shown in the video, their families, the company . . . and the stability of his own employment.''

In a deposition, O'Hara said he told Lenkowski and Keeler that "if they (had) something that's a police matter, they should go to police.''

Regardless of what was said, no one called the police. Instead, O'Hara met with Stanton about the allegations against him.

"And he didn't ever — he didn't deny it, he didn't admit it,'' O'Hara said in a deposition. " I just told him if any of this s--- is going on, that, you know, that's not something that can be tolerated.''

O'Hara also told Stanton that if he "was doing anything like that, he needs to go get some mental help.''

Stanton replied that he had been counseled by his priest.

"And that was good enough for you?'' O'Hara was asked in his deposition.

"Yes,'' he said.

• • •

MaintenX didn't discipline or demote Stanton. In his lawsuit, Lenkowski said the CFO kept working around the women in the videos, "sharing office space and restroom facilities with them, flirting with them and giving them gifts." The stress got to be too much for Lenkowski — he suffered a breakdown and in 2013 quit his job.

After Lenkowski left, employees began receiving letters from a Tampa law firm with the title: Surveillance Cameras with Audio in the Female Restroom and Shower at MaintenX International.

O'Hara called a meeting of employees.

"He gathered everyone around and said, 'You know, this isn't something that's going on right now,' '' Olivia Gatliff, O'Hara's stepdaughter and the company's human relations director, testified in a court hearing. According to Gatliff, O'Hara went on to say: "We've obviously checked the bathrooms. There's nothing going on and it's most likely coming from an unhappy ex-employee.' And that anyone that received these (letters) should turn them into human resources."

O'Hara didn't mention Stanton's name nor let on that any employees had been taped, Gatliff said.

In February 2014, an attorney representing Lenkowski gave Tampa police a disc with 142 videos. She explained that her client was afraid to hand them over himself because he feared he had broken the law by not contacting authorities sooner.

Most of the videos showed female MaintenX employees nude, partly nude or dressed. But in two videos, a man could be seen entering a restroom, quickly removing a camera, putting it in a bag and, moments later, removing electronic wires from the same bag. The man was Stanton.

Soon after police received the disc, a detective met with a woman who appeared in 20 of the images.

"She was devastated when she watched the videos,'' the detective wrote in a search warrant that has since been sealed. "She cried and displayed anger for whoever was responsible for this recording without her permission.''

On March 21, 2014, police and FDLE agents raided MaintenX headquarters on N Howard Avenue and arrested Stanton on 123 counts of video voyeurism. O'Hara was in Colorado, so Gatliff said police made her watch the videos to try to identify the women.

"They were graphic images," she later testified.

• • •

Although efforts to pass a federal law against video voyeurism have been unsuccessful, it's illegal in several states. Florida law defines it as a felony in which a person who, "for his own amusement, entertainment or sexual arousal,'' records those in the act of changing or exposing their body when they have "a reasonable expectation of privacy.'' The maximum punishment is five years in prison.

In 2011, two young Bulgarian women found cameras in their Tampa apartment and claimed they were being spied on. The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office declined to file charges because the cameras weren't hooked up and there was no recording equipment.

The most notorious case of video voyeurism involved then-ESPN sportscaster Erin Andrews. In 2009, she was videotaped naked in her hotel room by a man who posted the images online where they were viewed by millions. He went to prison. In March, a jury awarded Andrews $55 million in her civil case against him and the Nashville Marriott.

Less than a month after Stanton's 2014 arrest — which drew little publicity — prosecutors formally charged him with six counts of voyeurism, a first-degree misdemeanor. Later, the charges were dismissed because the one-year statute of limitations on such misdemeanors had elapsed.

Lenkowski's lawyers asserted in depositions that MaintenX's failure to notify police of the videos when they were found let Stanton avoid prosecution.

In addition to Lenkowski, five women — identified only as Jane Does 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 — sued Stanton, O'Hara, Gonzalez, MaintenX and the company that owns the building. Like Lenkowski, they allege that they've suffered "severe mental anguish'' and other problems because of Stanton's taping and the company's failure to do anything about it.

"Thank God we don't see these cases every day,'' Hillsborough Circuit Judge Paul L. Huey commented at one hearing last year. "It's a tough case.''

Records show that confidential settlements were reached last summer in all cases, except for the women's lawsuit against the building owner.

"I was happy for it to be over, I was happy it finally brought some justice,'' Lenkowski, who is working as an infrastructure engineer for another company, said in a recent interview.

His former boss, Stanton, left MaintenX the day of his arrest because of what company officials called "an accumulation of things,'' not just the criminal charges.

A licensed attorney since 1999, Stanton is the subject of a Florida Bar complaint initiated by lawyers for Lenkowski and the Jane Does. By recording the women without their consent, the complaint says, Stanton violated Bar rules that prohibit lawyers from engaging in conduct involving "dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation'' or that "reflect adversely on the lawyer's honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer.'

A referee has been appointed to hear facts in the case and recommend a punishment, if any.

In the meantime, the Bar's website shows Stanton in "good standing'' with no disciplinary action against him. He practices in the Tampa Bay area and handles various types of cases, including expungements — the sealing of criminal records, according to a profile on a legal website.

As part of the lawsuits against him, Stanton was deposed last year, but didn't answer a single question except to give his name. Instead, he invoked his constitutional right to remain silent — 162 times.

Contact Susan Taylor Martin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate.

     
 
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