BENTON – After hours of argument and testimony at two hearings about destruction of data in Madison County government, U.S. Magistrate Reona Daly hasn’t begun to solve the mystery.
She hasn’t even established whether former county administrator Joseph Parente logged into a computer that the county provided him in 2016.
County information director Rob Dorman testified on Jan. 18 that Parente never logged in, and Parente testified on Jan. 23 that he logged in and used the computer daily.
Lawyer Tom Burkart of Hamel, who examined Dorman at the first hearing, said at the second hearing that he needed to examine him again.
Burkart said that if Dorman could explain how he knows that Parente didn’t log in, he could impeach Parente's testimony.
Daly set a hearing Feb. 2, for Dorman to testify.
Burkart represents Madison County Veteran Assistance Commission Superintendent Brad Lavite, who sued Parente, former county board chairman Alan Dunstan, Sheriff John Lakin and State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons in 2016.
Lavite, an Iraq veteran who has suffered from PTSD, alleges they banned him from his office in retaliation for his criticisms of Dunstan and Parente.
Lavite was locked out of his office in the admin building for 21 months after a PTSD incident in which he kicked out windows of a Wood River police car in 2015, but continued to work from a remote location.
His psychologist had pronounced him fit to return to work, but the former administration argued that public safety required the ban.
After voters elected Kurt Prenzler as county board chairman in 2016, Prenzler restored Lavite to his office.
On top of that drama, two weeks ago a public corruption task force formed by Gibbons seized computers from county administration offices, including Dorman’s. But since the Jan. 10 raid, no information has come forth from the task force’s investigation. Search warrants and supporting affidavits remain under seal.
In Lavite’s case against Parente and Dunstan, Burkart moved for sanctions last year, claiming the county destroyed evidence relevant to Lavite’s case.
At the hearing on Jan. 18, Parente would have testified but the hearing ran so long that Daly had to continue it.
Dorman testified that when his staff turned on Parente’s computer, “Nothing happened.”
“It wouldn’t boot,” he said. “There was no operating system on it.”
Burkart asked if he tried to retrieve the information.
Dorman said no, adding that the county has a polarizing climate and he decided to insulate himself.
He said he put the computer in a box and sent it to Data Tech Labs in Colorado.
Burkart handed Dorman a Data Tech invoice.
Gilbert objected to it as hearsay, and Daly overruled the objection.
Dorman read from the invoice, “Unable to complete. No work done.”
Burkart asked him to read a note at the bottom.
Dorman said, “Recovery unsuccessful.”
Burkart asked if he had Parente’s hard drive in a safe.
Dorman said yes and added, “I don’t know if that’s why they raided the office, my desktop, my laptop.”
Gilbert objected on grounds of relevance.
Daly said, “I don’t know who these people are or what’s going on.”
At the hearing on Jan. 23, Parente said he received a new computer in July 2016.
County counsel John Gilbert asked what he did with it.
Parente said a technician from information technology department plugged it in and hooked it up.
He said he transferred the files from the old computer to the new one.
“It didn’t take long,” Parente said. “It was just Word and Excel files"
Gilbert asked if he did anything to the old computer's hard drive
Parente said he deleted files as he was supposed to do.
Gilbert told him that Dorman testified that he never logged in, and asked if he did.
“Yes, daily,” Parente said.
Gilbert asked if he used the computer and Parente said, yes, “extensively.”
Gilbert asked if he signed an agreement when he left office requiring him to cooperate with the new administration.
Parente said he agreed to make himself available to answer questions.
Gilbert asked if he was contacted about anything and Parente said, no.
“All documents regarding Lavite from the old computer to the new?”
Parente said, yes.
Burkart told Daly that it doesn’t matter to Lavite who destroyed the information.
“Whatever was destroyed needs to be construed in favor of my client," Burkart said.