Through a period of turbulence in the Pasco County Sheriff's Office, a deputy kept a written log of his superiors' orders to tamper with personnel files _ and of one top official's concerns about "the press" finding out. The log, mentioned in a report by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) detailing its monthlong review of the sheriff's personnel department, describes numerous incidents of backdated information entered into files on the orders of top administrators.
Two deputies said in sworn statements to the FDLE that James O'Keefe, the bureau commander of administration, told them on March 26, 1991, that "it was just a matter of time before the "Press' would discover a problem of this magnitude and show up in Personnel to investigate the files in question."
This is not the first time in recent years that problems with Sheriff's Office hiring procedures have been widely publicized. In his 1984 campaign against John Short, Jim Gillum criticized the inadequate employee background checks conducted when Short was sheriff.
Claims turn up in FDLE report
Some of the most serious allegations of problems in Gillum's department were made public this week with the release of the FDLE report on its investigation.
The allegations came from two deputies, Corrections Sgt. John Fairbanks and Corrections Officer Robert DeAntonio, who had been assigned temporarily to personnel department to help with checking files. Fairbanks kept a log that was described in the FLDE report, although the log has not been made public.
On March 26, O'Keefe said he was ordering his personnel director, Nancy Grantham, to retype and backdate documents "to avoid additional allegations by the "Press,'
" according to the two deputies' sworn statements.
"I have the girls working on it," Grantham is said to have told O'Keefe.
The next day, the deputies stated, they told Grantham they would not take part in backdating documents. According to Fairbanks, Grantham replied, "Who is going to know, except for us?"
According to the sworn statement, Grantham said she didn't think anyone would find out, but if they did, "that's for our attorney's (sic) to worry about, thats (sic) what they get paid for."
Last month an FDLE investigator found that about 62 of 178 sheriff's employment files contained altered or backdated documents. He took custody of the originals in case they are needed as evidence in a criminal case. However, the state attorney for Pasco and Pinellas counties ruled last week that at present insufficient evidence existed to press charges.
Misconduct and the law
Lee Cannon, the former sheriff's attorney who made the original allegation of record tampering in March, said Wednesday he was "totally flabbergasted" by the FDLE disclosures.
If the sworn statements about orders to tamper with files and the evidence of 62 tampered files don't constitute official misconduct under Florida law, "maybe we should take the official misconduct statute and rip it out of the books," Cannon said. Cannon has said he is considering running for sheriff next year.
One definition of official misconduct in the Florida Statutes reads, "The commission of one of the following acts by a public servant, with corrupt intent to obtain a benefit for himself or another or to cause unlawful harm to another: . . . (b) Knowingly falsifying, or causing another to falsify, any official record or official document."
" "Corrupt' means done with knowledge that act is wrongful and with improper motives," the law states. Official misconduct is a third-degree felony, with maximum penalties of five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
In his sworn statement, Fairbanks detailed these four incidents of alleged file tampering:
On April 4, 1991, about 11:30 a.m., Fairbanks saw Grantham give DeAntonio the personnel file of Kerry Anne O'Conner, as well as two employment summary reports backdated to April 9, 1990. Grantham allegedly stated that the summary reports were not previously prepared and needed to be included in O'Conner's employment file.
On April 3, Fairbanks said, he and DeAntonio were asked by clerk-typist Marlene Bourski how far back they wanted personal reference summary reports for Helen Smith backdated. Fairbanks told her he didn't want anything to do with backdating.
On April 4, Fairbanks said, employment summary information was added to applicant Gerald Ciani's original summary report dated Oct. 24, 1990.
On April 5, Fairbanks said, six personal references were added to the original employment summary of applicant Guisseppe Cucchiara dated July 17, 1990.
In some cases, late information was typed on sheets in a typeface different from the one used on the same sheets for earlier information.
Fairbanks said that of the more than 200 employment files he and DeAntonio reviewed, about 149 were incomplete. Apparently those omissions led to the staff efforts to add backdated information to files.
Officials deny backdating
O'Keefe has denied directing any employee to alter or backdate records, and he denied all the allegations reported by Fairbanks and DeAntonio. Grantham also denied the allegations of Fairbanks and DeAntonio. Bourski told the FDLE on May 8 that she had no knowledge of documents being backdated, but said on May 15 that Grantham had told her to backdate some documents she was retyping.
Gillum ordered the return to normal duties of O'Keefe and Grantham, along with administration Capt. John Morrison, on Tuesday after the three spent a month on paid administrative leave during the FDLE investigation.
O'Keefe is a friend of Gillum, and O'Keefe's wife, Genevieve, works as the sheriff's secretary.
Fairbanks, 25, joined the Sheriff's Office in November 1987. His father, James Fairbanks, is the sheriff's captain of patrol on the west side of the county. DeAntonio, 38, joined the Sheriff's Office in September 1989. Both men's personnel files contain favorable evaluations, with no indication of disciplinary action.