Oconee Sheriff's Candidate Posts, Then Removes, County Credit Card Numbers
Snellville Police Sgt. Trey Downs says he posted sensitive financial information inadvertently with 600 pages of spending records from Sheriff Scott Berry's Office that he put online.
Oconee County Sheriff candidate Trey Downs says he immediately removed Sheriff's Office credit card statements from his campaign website and Facebook pages Thursday after learning they contained sensitive credit card and banking information.
Downs had posted the documents, which were obtained from the county Finance Department through an Open Records Act request, because he believes they illustrate a pattern of wasteful spending.
"Those are open to the public," said Downs, a Snellville Police sergeant. "They are backed by my and your tax dollars. We have a right to inspect those."
Sheriff Scott Berry said he learned of the issue when a citizen called him and accurately rattled off a complete credit number belonging of one of the two credit card accounts for the Sheriff's Office. The caller told Berry he had obtained the number from documents that were posted on Downs' campaign website and that the information was also on Downs' personal and campaign Facebook pages.
The approximately two years' worth of statements included copies of receipts containing at least one complete county bank account number, along with a couple of local businesses' bank account numbers and partial social security numbers of some Sheriff's Office employees, Berry said.
One complaint has since been filed by a citizen whose personal information appeared on the documents, he said.
The posting of the information on the Internet put the county at risk, he said.
"We notified the county governing authority -- [Finance Director] Jeff Benko -- and had to get new credit cards," he said. "We had to get [the old ones] canceled. We had to try to stop the bleeding and make sure those accounts weren't compromised."
No fraudulent activity had been noted on the accounts, Berry added.
Berry noted the incident on his personal Facebook page, writing: "It seems to me that most anyone knows how foolish it is to post anyone's credit card numbers online. This subjects the Sheriff's Office and the taxpayers to unnecessary risk of identity theft."
"I didn't intentionally release any sensitive information," Downs explained. "I certainly didn't release any information to intentionally harm anyone. The information I released was simply placed out there basically so it could be for the public to view and form their own opinion about."
The county failed to redact all of the sensitive information that it should have before releasing the requested documents, Downs said. Still, he said he doesn't fault the Finance Department Office, calling it a "scrivener's error."
"They should have, but it was so obscure, that they were not negligent," Downs said. "You had to really look hard to find that number. And there were 600 pages of documents."
After realizing the sensitive information was included, Downs said he called the county's bank right away to report that some account numbers may have been compromised and promptly removed it from the sites.
Berry said regardless of whether the sensitive information was redacted by the county before being released, Downs should have noticed it.
"Quite frankly, he's an investigator, he's a peace officer, and he's a candidate. That's something that's blatantly obvious to anybody who does what we do for a living -- that you don't publish that kind of information," Berry said.
But Downs said that's not the bottom line.
"The bottom line is this," he said: "When you boil the fat off of this issue, it comes down to integrity, and the sheriff did not like my placing that public information online for public inspection. What he could have done is place it online himself and not be ashamed of those expenses."
Berry said, "It's not [about] the records. It's the fact that [Downs] published credit card and checking account numbers."
"It's an imaginative issue he's making of it being about an identity theft issue with Oconee County, purely for political gain," Downs argued. "I merely put the documents out there for public inspection because I think the citizens of Oconee County deserve to be informed. And I don't think that many citizens even knew that he had in his possession a card with a $10,000 spending limit on it that he can spend at his discretion with no oversight."
Downs said he is considering re-posting some of the information from the statements, like a receipt showing a $40 charge for room service, so citizens can decide for themselves if the transactions are necessary and fiscally responsible. But the documents would be carefully combed for possible sensitive information beforehand.
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