Employees under former District Attorney Janice Steidley reportedly deleted all of the office’s financial data prior to December 2014, according to a report released by the state auditor’s office.
“It appears that all financial data was removed from the finance coordinator’s computer system,” and hard copies of financial reports and ledgers were not retained, the report states.
According to the audit, this action may have violated Oklahoma law, which states that public employees may not “damage, modify, alter, destroy, copy, delete, disclose or take possession of a computer, computer system, computer network or any other property” without permission.
The findings came from an audit of financials for the District Attorney’s office for Rogers, Mayes and Craig counties, specifically the programs for bogus check restitution, supervision, restitution and diversion, and property forfeiture.
“The Oklahoma State Auditor and Inspector’s office could not access financial data prior to December 31, 2014 on the former finance coordinator’s computer software for auditing and reconciliation purposes,” the report states. “In addition, hard copies of monthly financial reports and ledgers were not retained, limiting the scope of our audit.”
The deleting of that information about public funds means District 12 may have “incomplete and/or inaccurate information,” which could result serious errors and “misappropriation of funds.”
County treasurer’s records were used to fill the gaps where possible for the audit, the report states.
The District Attorneys Council provides computer data backup for all Oklahoma prosecutors’ offices but “an exhaustive search” showed the data was never backed up to the council’s server, which also violates DAC policy.
“According to the DAC, the system had been ‘re-imaged’ which means the computer system was completely wiped of all data and then reinstalled with the basic windows computer configuration,” the report states.
State Auditor Gary Jones told The Frontier his office will likely refer the evidence of destruction of public records to the Attorney General’s office.
“The whole computer was wiped clean,” Jones said. “It’s definitely the first time I’ve seen that from a district attorney’s office.”
The audit also documented how former DA Janice Steidley’s office spent almost $1,000 on a local newspaper ad documenting her successes in office, out of funds that were supposed to be used for supervision of criminals. The audit states that, according to current DA Matt Ballard, that incident has also been referred to the AG’s office.
“The ad appears to espouse the accomplishments of the former District Attorney’s office during a highly contested campaign,” the auditor’s report states.
Using public funds for personal promotion or campaign ads is a violation of Oklahoma Ethics Commission rules.
Ballard also responded to the audit’s report about the deleted financial records: “The previous administration’s destruction of financial documents is disappointing and has greatly increased the difficulty of the turnover. We have devoted significant resources to identifying the source of funds, investigating unpaid invoices, and attempting to piece together incomplete financial data. We share OSAI’s concerns regarding this issue.”
In December, The Frontier reported the story of a woman named Diana Thurman who alleged Steidley and her husband, attorney Larry Steidley, threatened to seek a lengthy prison sentence for her jailed son if she didn’t assist her in plans to embarrass Sheriff Scott Walton.
The Steidleys viewed Walton as a political enemy, because he was among law enforcement officers who criticized the DA and helped circulate a petition for a grand jury investigation of her, her assistants and two county commissioners.
A judge threw out that grand jury petition on a technicality, but the Attorney General’s office agreed in October 2014 to have the state’s multicounty grand jury examine claims of wrongdoing as outlined in that petition.
While the grand jury did not find probable cause to indict Steidley or remove her from office, it released an interim report. The report states that “a review of the testimony and other evidence gathered during the course of this investigation has revealed an alarming lack of respect, civility, and overall professionalism” between Steidley and the law enforcement agencies within Rogers County.
In February, Thurman filed a multimillion dollar federal civil lawsuit against Steidley and her husband, alleging they used her and her jailed son as pawns in their plot to embarrass Walton. Her son, Justin Thurman, filed a similar lawsuit in May, alleging the Steidleys had violated his civil rights by keeping him in the county jail instead of sending him to rehabilitation, in order to force his mother to comply with their plans. She recorded many of her phone calls with Larry Steidley as evidence.
Larry Steidley disputed many of Diana and Justin Thurman’s claims in an interview with The Frontier, saying: “It did not happen. But even had it happened, there’s nothing wrong with it.”
Neither Janice or Larry Steidley or their attorneys could immediately be reached for comment on the state auditor’s report.