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Computer inquiry widened

Prosecutors have expanded their investigation of questionable state computer purchases to include Florida's Department of Elder Affairs.

Elder Affairs officials confirmed Monday that they were approached this spring by the Leon State Attorney's Office.

Elder Affairs Secretary Bentley Lipscomb said that he and other department officials received subpoenas, and that prosecutors asked for all the department's computer purchasing records.

Janet Brown, head of Elder Affairs' Division of Management Systems, recently decided to resign.Lipscomb said the resignation and the state attorney's investigation are unrelated.

State prosecutors have been investigating computer procurement practices at the state Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services since last summer, and a grand jury was meeting Monday on that investigation.

While the HRS investigation was receiving widespread publicity, prosecutors quietly expanded the probe to include Elder Affairs.

Lipscomb said he hasn't heard from prosecutors in several months and he never had to testify. "They called me back and said, "It's not necessary for you to come,' " Lipscomb said.

After prosecutors requested records from his department, Lipscomb said he asked his general counsel and purchasing agent to look at every computer purchase made by the department: All the purchases were made at an approved state contract rate, or were the result of a competitive process involving three bids.

Elder Affairs General Counsel Emily Moore said prosecutors were interested in allegations that the department "caused purchases to be made of unnecessary equipment," among other things.

Prosecutors also received a copy of an anonymous letter sent to the governor's office in May. The letter was forwarded to Elder Affairs and was released by the department Monday under Florida's Public Records Law.

The letter alleges that Brown, head of management systems, had a personal relationship with an employee of a computer company, and the company received state business as a result.

Lipscomb said Monday that the letter "had no substance to it." As a precaution, he asked Brown to disqualify herself from any computer purchases involving the computer company employee referred to in the allegations.

Brown's resignation, effective in July, had nothing to do with the anonymous letter or the allegations, Lipscomb said.

"The most direct way to put it was that we had an incompatibility in management styles," Lipscomb said.

Brown could not be reached for comment, but her attorney, Thomas Powell, said his client "absolutely denies" the allegations in the letter.

Powell said Brown has been thinking about working in the private sector for some time. She joined Elder Affairs in October 1991, in a transition period before the agency began operating. Before that, she worked five years in the governor's office.