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Test of sheriff's friend in doubt

The woman who became a central figure in the divorce of Pasco Sheriff Jim Gillum last year was hired as a sheriff's legal assistant in 1989, even though a required polygraph test displayed dead, flat-line responses, according to a sergeant's personal log. It is a requirement in Gillum's department that all applicants pass a polygraph test as a condition of hire. Although the flat lines indicate the polygraph machine was not working, or was not hooked up, notes written on Christine Puto's test chart say "she will be a definite asset to the agency" and "exceptional lady," the log stated.

The log is a personal diary kept by Corrections Sgt. John Fairbanks during his one-month, temporary assignment to the personnel department. Fairbanks was told Puto's polygraph test had been administered, and the comments written, by Dan McDonough, a deputy who later was transferred to road duty.

Puto's chart showed four straight lines from end to end, and another polygraph operator who looked at the chart later judged the test "invalid and actually not given," the log stated.

Gillum did not return two telephone messages Thursday evening. Puto could not be reached for comment Thursday evening.

In sworn depositions in his divorce in 1990, Gillum stated he and Puto had no relationship other than as friends. The attorney for Gillum's ex-wife had suggested Gillum was unfaithful in the last months of his marriage.

A copy of Fairbanks' log was part of the file amassed by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) during its monthlong investigation of an allegation of record tampering in the Pasco Sheriff's Office personnel department.

The FDLE released the entire text of the log Thursday. In it, Fairbanks wrote repeatedly of refusing to follow superiors' instructions to backdate information placed into personnel files.

An FDLE investigator found that between September 1989 and January 1991, McDonough administered about 250 polygraphs to applicants who later were hired; apparently all of those tests were done on a malfunctioning machine.

The chart of the Puto test, which was given Sept. 27, 1989, was the first one to be described publicly.

"This chart was initialed by McDonough across the flap of the envelope and sealed with Scotch tape, unlike any other polygraph charts," Fairbanks' log stated.

Puto was retested on April 4, 1991, according to Chief Deputy Jim Francis, as the Sheriff's Office was retesting more than 100 employees. The condition of any of the other 250 charts administered by McDonough was not available Thursday.

According to an April 5 internal FDLE memo, McDonough's attorney, Lee Cannon, alleged that his client was told to describe as "favorable" the backgrounds of applicants with pasts that might disqualify them from hire.

"The employee determined that numerous applicants did not meet the hiring requirements established by the department, such as prior drug use and other similar types of conduct. According to the employee, he was told to complete the backgrounds as favorable so the employees could be hired," the FDLE memo states.

The FDLE memo does not name any of the applicants involved, nor does it name any superiors who directed McDonough in these acts. Cannon is Gillum's former departmental attorney and is considering running for sheriff.

Puto, 41, was hired for an unbudgeted, unadvertised position as a legal assistant with the Sheriff's Office on Oct. 9, 1989. Puto, a former counselor for the Monroe County State Attorney's Office, has failed the Florida Bar examination six times.

Telephone records showed Gillum made more than 200 personal telephone calls on his car phone to Puto's home in Marathon in the five months before she was hired.

_ Staff writer Charlotte Sutton contributed to this report.