Scottsdale police employees are still on edge two months after the recovery of a stolen list with their personal information — primarily because that list, through a prosecutor's oversight, was handed back to the suspected thief sitting in jail.
“It was an inadvertent mistake,” said Bill FitzGerald, spokesman for the Maricopa County Attorney's Office. “Somebody just missed this particular packet of material.”
The list containing names, addresses, Social Security numbers and more was left in a case file given to the defense attorney for Vernon Paul Johnson, 45, who is accused of stealing the list a year ago from the night stand in the home of former Police Chief Doug Bartosh.
The defense attorney, in turn, gave a copy to Johnson, who is in Maricopa County's Durango Jail in Phoenix on theft and drug charges.
Johnson and cellmate Henry C. McQuatters, 35, split the list and mailed it to friends, according to an Aug. 19 e-mail to Scottsdale Police Department employees.
The inmates wanted to use the list as “a bargaining tool for their cases,” detective Mike Whitcomb wrote in the e-mail.
Police learned Johnson again had the list through a tip.
Outgoing inmate mail is not screened by jailers, Maricopa County sheriff's Lt. J.J. Tuttle said.
Confronted, the inmates revealed where they sent the list in exchange for an assurance they would not be charged for mailing it. Whitcomb agreed.
“We cannot charge the recipients partly due to the deals we made to get the list back, but mostly because there really is nothing to charge them with,” he said in the e-mail. “Sadly, Johnson was in legal possession of the list.”
Police first learned on June 18 the personal information had been stolen. Chandler police arrested a forgery suspect, Tosha Bohnsack, 24, who had the list, police said.
An investigation revealed Johnson had bartered the employee list to Bohnsack, with an agreement that she would share money and goods scored from it. Johnson is accused of taking the list last year while doing renovation work at Bartosh's home.
Detectives last month recovered the list again. To the best of his knowledge, Whitcomb said, no employees were victimized, even though the list was circulated among criminals and even scanned into a computer by one suspect.
“There is no credible information that anyone still has a copy of our list,” he said.
Several credit accounts at retail stores were opened in at least one employee's name, but no transactions were made, Whitcomb said.
Even so, Scottsdale officers and departmental support staff are not relaxing, a spokesman for officers said.
“Nobody is ever going to be relaxed,” said Jim Hill, president of the Scottsdale Police Officers Association. “We don't know how long the list was out there. We still look and wonder if it's going to pop up again.”
Whitcomb said prosecutor Ron Debrigida worked “furiously” with detectives to correct the oversight that put the list back in Johnson's hands. Debrigida pulled one copy from the thick case file before handing it over to defense attorney Herman Alcantar as part of the discovery process. He did not know another list was in the file, Whitcomb said.
Scottsdale Police Chief Alan Rodbell said the second release of the employee list was unfortunate.
“I think one of the things we are happy about is we have been very upfront and very forthright with all the information with employees,” Rodbell said.
Others arrested and charged in connection with the stolen list were Kelly Diane Patrick, 40, who was being held in the county's Estrella Jail in Phoenix on a revoked probation, and Johnson's girlfriend, Barbara Vrieze, 33, who has been released, a jail official said.
Johnson, who faces a minimum of nine years in jail on his charges, is being held on $81,000 bond. McQuatters is being held on $5,000 bond, a jail official said.