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Published: Thursday, 7/26/2007

Intern says he's now Ohio data theft 'scapegoat'

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU

COLUMBUS - The college intern at the center of the computer tape furor that could ultimately cost Ohio taxpayers more than $2 million broke his silence yesterday, saying he's been made the state's "scapegoat."

"I was put through a grueling three-hour polygraph test, numerous interviews with various investigators, and countless phone calls," Jared Ilovar, 22, said in a written statement.

"For the record I was never involved in the theft of the tape and the investigators came to the same conclusion," he said. "I was a victim of a random car theft, and now I am the scapegoat for the state of Ohio."

He could not be reached for additional comment.

Gov. Ted Strickland fired Mr. Ilovar on Friday when he refused to resign following the release of an Ohio inspector general report that spread the blame from the carelessness of an intern who left the data tape in his car to bad decisions made by those higher up the chain of command.

Mr. Strickland also accepted the resignation of David L. White, project manager for the $158 million Ohio Administrative Knowledge System, terminated the contracts of two highly paid computer consultants, and initiated disciplinary proceedings against two other state employees.

Mr. Ilovar said he considered his internship working on the state's massive new payroll and purchasing system to be "an opportunity of a lifetime" and was hoping it would lead to a full-time job after he graduates from DeVry University in March.

He said he hoped Mr. Strickland would consider giving him another chance. There will be no such offer.

"I've tried to be sensitive of the young man and protective of him as a matter of fact," said Mr. Strickland. "I don't have ill feelings toward him. I wish him well. This set of circumstances is unfortunate, but I have not blamed him for any decision-making that led to this. I've said I didn't think it was appropriate for an intern to be given this responsibility, but I don't think he's being made the scapegoat," he said. "Others were terminated."

Mr. Ilovar said he was given no instructions on how to handle the backup storage tape once he carried it from his work station to his car beyond being told to "bring these back tomorrow."

"I was the newest person in the door so I inherited the job of taking the data tapes out of the building," he said. "That was the extent of my instructions."

He said he was unaware until after the theft that the state had a policy dating back to 2002 requiring a network administrator to take the tape home as a security measure in the event some disaster damaged the original data. Instead, interns had been routinely taking home one of two backup tapes created nightly, and those interns passed the task onto him.

The policy has since been changed so that the tapes remain in government buildings.

The state has reviewed the tape's on-site twin and determined it contains names, Social Security numbers, and in some cases bank-account information for 1.1 million individuals and businesses.

The state has maintained specialized equipment and knowledge would be needed to access the data, but it has offered a year of taxpayer-financed identify-theft monitoring to the individuals affected.

Mr. Ilovar said three members of the Strickland administration, including two of his superiors and an attorney, "strong-armed" him into signing a letter of resignation that he later rescinded.

Mr. Strickland said he talked yesterday with the three individuals who were in the room and said he is satisfied that the intern was not strong-armed. "He may interpret being told that he would have the option of resigning or being terminated as being strong-armed, but I see it as a statement of fact" he said. "It was a decision I had made after reading the inspector general's report."

He said the same offer led to Mr. White's resignation.

Mr. Strickland said he was concerned when Mr. Ilovar told investigators that he took the tape inside his apartment about 85 percent of the time. On the night of June 10 or early June 11, his car, which he insisted was locked, was broken into and the tape stolen.

"I wasn't aware that I was making any mistakes," said Mr. Ilovar. "Given the fact that I took the tapes out of the building every night and brought them back every day, how was that making a mistake? Remember my instructions from a fellow intern were 'bring these [tapes] back tomorrow.' "

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.



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