Secret DCF files sold at auction
St. Petersburg Times, published May 31, 2002

   The department will investigate how the boxes, marked "shred," were sold to a reporter at WTSP-Ch. 10.   The state Department of Children and Families faced new accusations of negligence Thursday after a local television reporter bought boxes of confidential DCF files at an auction of government property.

   "I bought 50 boxes for five bucks," said Mike Deeson, a longtime reporter for WTSP-Ch. 10, the Tampa Bay area's CBS affiliate. "I found thousands of pages -- case files, abuse reports, pay stubs from parents, psychiatric evaluations."

   Channel 10 is not broadcasting the specific contents of the files. Instead, Deeson bought the files to question whether DCF was negligent in allowing confidential documents to be sold at an auction.

   DCF says the files were auctioned off by mistake, and the department will investigate how it happened.

   "We will conduct an internal review of everybody involved," said DCF spokeswoman Shawnna Donovan.

   The files were in cardboard boxes marked "shred," but the papers had not been shredded.

   The boxes had been left inside the W.T. Edwards office building in Tampa, which housed the area's DCF headquarters until DCF moved to another location about two years ago. Since then, parts of the vacant building have been used as a government warehouse, Donovan said.

   A private auction house, Premiere Auctions of Tampa, was contracted to auction off the contents of the vacant building -- desks, office chairs, air conditioners, sinks. The auction started Thursday morning.

   DCF says the files were inadvertently made available for sale.

   "It is our understanding that the boxes that had the word "shred' on them were housed in a broom closet, and that room was accidentally unlocked," Donovan said. "The auctioneer assumed the room's contents were for sale and proceeded with the sale."

   Donovan said the auctioneer should not have sold the files. DCF fired the auctioneer and canceled the rest of the auction, which had been scheduled to continue today and Saturday.

   The auctioneer, Thomas Hicks of Tampa, could not be reached for comment Thursday. But he told WTSP-Ch. 10 that DCF officials told him to sell everything in the building.

   Although DCF was unhappy with the auctioneer, Donovan acknowledged that the documents were DCF's responsibility.

   "You could make the argument that it's our responsibility to make sure that door is locked," Donovan said.

   The files eventually would have been removed from the W.T. Edwards building before the building was sold or demolished, she said.

This article provided for educational purposes only as a public service by the Oakton Institute.