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Algonquin Township Highway Department spends $4,500 on forensic computer audit

CRYSTAL LAKE – Township officials were divided in their opinions after learning Algonquin Township Highway Commissioner Andrew Gasser spent public money to investigate his predecessor.

New bills show that Decatur-based forensics company Garrett Discovery billed the highway department $4,583.60 Jan. 18 for a forensic analysis of computer hard drives belonging to the road district. The report detailed that someone had deleted files near the end of former Highway Commissioner Bob Miller’s last term in office, according to records obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Gasser has not returned phone calls requesting comment about road district matters. He said at a recent public meeting that he is tired of being questioned about the way he is doing things.

The 18-page report concluded that “a user logged onto the server April 2, 2017, and installed an anti-forensic software package designed to delete and destroy data, executed that program and destroyed beyond recover[y] many files.”

Miller lost the primary election to Gasser in February, but he still was in office April 2. Miller declined to comment on the report.

Although one township official called the analysis a waste of taxpayers’ money, another said it served an important purpose.

“Whenever a public official takes deliberate measures to cleanse a government computer of public documents, I feel it raises serious red flags and further erodes the public’s trust in government,” Trustee Rachael Lawrence said. “Whoever does that should be held accountable for any possible laws that they’ve broken. ... I fully support any measure taken to identify and recover any data that’s been wiped so it can be returned to the public record.”

Trustee Dan Shea said Gasser overstepped his authority and now was seeking to play the role of prosecutor rather than highway commissioner.

“Where’s the state’s attorney?” Shea said. “He’s the person who would handle something like that.”

The road district’s funding of a forensic analysis adds another layer to the political intrigue that has engulfed Algonquin Township over the past year – a period defined by in-house lawsuits, budget-busting legal fees and numerous corruption allegations.

The forensic report sheds no light on what was deleted from the server, but a Jan. 17 letter from computer forensic expert Andy Garrett to Gasser’s lawyer, Robert Hanlon, alleges that Miller and a contractor deleted records.

Garrett’s letter names the private contractor who works with Algonquin Township officials to sort out computer problems and lays out bullet points detailing a conversation the contractor had with Garrett regarding directions he got from Miller to wipe clean road district computers.

“Miller asked him to wipe the data from the computers at the [highway department] because he had personal information on it,” Garrett wrote in the letter. “... When he went to wipe data from Mr. Miller’s desktop PC, there wasn’t anything to wipe because Mr. Miller had already deleted everything.”

Miller’s attorney, Tom Gooch, said he has not read the audit and does not plan to.

“I don’t know why the highway commissioner is wasting his time and the taxpayers’ money on his own personal witch hunts,” Gooch said. “The highway commissioner is not the custodian of records.”

As of Friday, most township officials were not aware that the forensic analysis took place – or how much it cost.

“I would like to study the audit and read it before I can make judgment on it,” Township Supervisor Charles Lutzow said.

For several months, a grand jury has been investigating allegations of wrongdoing over nearly a decade at the Algonquin Township road district, according to documents reviewed by the Northwest Herald and confirmed by multiple sources close to the probe. Grand jury proceedings are held in secret.

Before Miller lost his seat in an upset during February’s primary, his family had controlled the highway department since the 1960s. Miller, who served as highway commissioner for more than two decades, has not been charged with a crime.

The grand jury looked into allegations of official misconduct, according to a subpoena reviewed by the Northwest Herald.

Grand jury proceedings are secret; however, court filings in a lawsuit between Gasser and Township Clerk Karen Lukasik shed light on some details investigators might be exploring.

In an Oct. 30 court document, Gasser accused Miller of giving away government property to political allies, bid rigging, using township credit cards to buy personal items for family members and falsifying official documents.

Gooch asked a McHenry County judge to stop Hanlon from engaging in discovery to gather evidence to support his client’s accusations, according to a Nov. 13 court filing.

On Nov. 17, a judge granted that request and stopped all discovery proceedings in one of Gasser’s lawsuits, a ruling that prohibits Hanlon from taking depositions.

The recent forensic audit is not the first time township officials in McHenry County have used the tactic to try to uncover wrongdoing.

In 2014, a forensic audit found that former Grafton Township Supervisor Linda Moore often exceeded her authority while in office.

The 11-page report from Northbrook-based ECS Financial Services concluded that Moore prevented her four rival trustees on the Grafton board from performing their elected duties by not paying board-approved bills and poorly maintaining the township’s accounts. The audit cost the township $26,000 – a price township officials called a “waste.”

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