U.S. SELLS SECRET DATA TO CHARLES HAYES
*New York Times*, NATIONAL, Sunday, Sept. 2, 1990 (p. 25)
"U.S. Mistakenly Sold a Prosecutor's Secret Data"
Pikeville, Ky., Sept. 1 (AP) -- A United States Attorney's
secret computer files, including electronic copies of sealed
indictments and information about pending F.B.I. inquiries, were
mistakenly sold by the Government a month ago to a businessman
who paid $45 for what he thought was only broken computer
The Justice Department now says the sale could compromise any
number of criminal cases, and it has sued the businessman to get
the data back.
The businessman, Charles Hayes, who resells Government surplus
items, says that he would like to cooperate but that the
equipment he bought, and various parts from it, have now been
mixed with his previous inventory and so he is no longer sure
which is which. He says he is trying to determine which of his
customers may have bought some of the equipment, but he is
resisting the Government's demand that he identify those
customers, terming it an unwarranted intrusion into his business.
-+- A Search of His Business -+-
The Government finds Mr. Hayes's attitude insufficiently
forthcoming. In addition to the lawsuit, which was filed
Thursday, Federal marshals armed with a search warrant arrived
Friday night at his establishment in Pulaski County, about 125
miles west of here. By the time they had left nine hours later,
they had seized what Mr. Hayes described today as nine computer
terminals, a computer memory device and assorted other equipment.
According to the Government's lawsuit, the case stems from a
mistake made last January when a technician for the Harris-Lanier
Corporation, the manufacturer of the system that Mr. Hayes would
later buy, arrived at the office of the United States Attorney in
Lexington, Louis DeFalaise. The system, in disrepair, was to be
sold at auction, and the technician was supposed to erase the
In July, at an auction of the General Services Administration,
Mr. Hayes made a successful bid of $45 for the system: 13
computer terminals, two central memory units, two cartridge
module drives and nine printers. After Mr. Hayes picked up the
equipment on Aug. 3, the Harris-Lanier technician told the
Government that he had not erased the memory after all; A
magnetic probe used to scramble the data had been too weak, and,
because the equipment was broken, technicians had been unable to
purge the memory through normal computer commands.
The Government's lawsuit says that the computer's memory and
backup storage tapes almost certainly still contain sensitive
details about informers who work for the Federal Bureau of
Investigation, about sealed indictments, about federally
protected witnesses and about employees in Mr. DeFalaise's
-+- "Irreparable Injury" -+-
"The U.S. Attorney's office," the lawsuit says, "used some or all
of the computer equipment to prepare and store virtually every
document and record generated by both the civil and criminal
divisions of the office from 1983 to 1989."
If made public, the suit goes on, the files could ruin criminal
investigations and cause "great harm and irreparable injury" to
the work of Federal prosecutors. "The seriousness of the injury
to the United States of America cannot be understated," it says.
Within hours of the lawsuits filing, a Federal district judge,
Eugene Siler Jr., ordered Mr. Hayes to return the computer system
to the Government and not examine, copy or distribute the data.
A hearing has been set for Tuesday.
Mr. Hayes said he had been told before he bought the equipment
that the computer memory had been wiped out. He called the sale
"the worst case of bureaucracy I have ever seen," and added, "If
it is this loose, I wonder what else is missing up there" in the
Office of the United States Attorney.
"What it amounts to," he said, "is I am being punished for the
inefficiency" in the prosecutor's office.