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State official under investigation

Florida chief information officer Roy Cales, a self-taught computer consultant who caught Gov. Jeb Bush's eye on the campaign trail, is under investigation for alleged grand theft, authorities said Monday.

Cales, 39, allegedly used a falsified letter to persuade Farmers & Merchants Bank to lend him $35,000 in 1996.

The letter, supposedly written by the then-business manager for WTLH-Ch. 49, promised Cales future computer business from the Tallahassee television station. But she says Cales apparently wrote the letter himself and forged her signature.

After receiving the loan, Cales started a software company, Integrity Data Inc. He and his wife, Dawn Cales, a business partner, later defaulted on the loan and declared bankruptcy. Roy Cales then went into business with a financial backer before being tapped by Bush in 1999. Dawn Cales started her own meeting planning company before going to work for the state Department of Education.

Roy Cales "is the primary focus of our grand theft investigation," said Sgt. Linda Butler, spokeswoman for the Leon County Sheriff's Office.

Butler said the bank filed a complaint in January, requesting an investigation.

Attempts to reach the Caleses on Monday were unsuccessful. Bush is out of the country and couldn't be reached. Spokeswoman Lisa Gates characterized a half-hour meeting Bush had last Wednesday with Cales as routine, saying the governor was getting an update on Cales' work.

At Bush's request, legislators passed a law this spring that will give Cales authority over 1,760 technology workers and a $600-million annual budget.

"This is a personal matter with Mr. Cales, and we do not comment on personal matters," Gates said.

But should grand theft charges be filed, Bush would be put in the position of having to suspend the affable Cales, after hiring him for the $95,000 position despite the bankruptcy and another grand theft charge in his past.

The other charge, that Cales embezzled $1,800 from a lumber store he worked at in 1985, was dropped after Cales admitted guilt and repaid the money.

Bush has repeatedly shrugged off Cales' past problems, saying the Cales he knows now is nothing like the Cales of old. Cales told the Tallahassee Democrat in a story published July 1 that he was just "young and stupid" when he committed the lumber store crime.

Sue Schultz, former business manager for WTLH, said her signature was forged on the bogus letter from the TV station _ her name was even misspelled _ and it "sure looked like" Cales' handwriting.

She said she had known Cales for several years and that he had a deal with the station, trading computer work for advertising for his computer business. But she said she knew nothing about the letter until 1997, when someone from Farmers & Merchants, following up on the loan made to Cales, called her. "I said, "What letter?' "

The bank showed it to her. It said Cales would be doing extensive work for WTLH. But Schultz said Cales had already done some of the work described, and the rest was work he'd never been promised.

Farmers & Merchants president Gary Wright said he wasn't "in a position to comment" on the investigation.