After hours of interviews, independent investigator Kevin Hughes released a 38-page report on Oct. 31 detailing his findings regarding missing emails from Deb Robinson’s computer.
The investigation was done in tandem with a forensic computer examination that is ongoing, according to the report. While the report doesn’t provide any conclusions about what happened to the emails, it does provide a detailed look at the testimonies of some of the key players in the incident including Robinson, County Assessor Cindy Barlow and representatives from tech company DigeTekS.
The report characterizes Robinson as “not very tech savvy” and her computer and technical capabilities as “limited.” Hughes wrote that Barlow had a propensity for “digressiveness, non-responsiveness and incongruity in responses to questions.”
The investigation was authorized by the Johnson County Commission on Oct. 16 at the request of Robinson, who was aiming to clear her name following rumors that she had deleted emails from her work computer. Barlow said she discovered that the emails were missing on Aug. 27 – nearly two weeks after Robinson resigned and the same day that Robinson filed to run against Barlow for county assessor.
The county contracted with Hughes, a private investigator, to conduct the investigation into whether any “unauthorized deletions or manipulations occurred in the Johnson County Information Technology System.”
Below are some of the highlights from the report.
After seven years working the front desk in the county assessor’s office, Robinson quit on Aug. 15. Robinson said the decision was not made in an effort to further her own political career, although she did file to run against current assessor Cindy Barlow in the assessor’s race after quitting.
Rather, the decision was the culmination of years of frustrations with Barlow whom she “did not always see eye to eye” with, according to the report.
For example, prior to the primary election, Barlow asked Robinson to participate in a photograph of assessor’s office staff that Barlow planned to use in her re-election campaign. Robinson refused.
Robinson also recounted various other instances of what she considered to be unethical behavior on the part of the assessor – from working on her outfitting business during assessor’s business hours to using the office’s copier to copy personal documents including a 2-inch medical file. She also noted that, “Barlow did not treat people well that she disliked, is vindictive and a prevaricator.”
The final straw came after a phone conversation with Barlow about allowing local appraiser Theo Hirshfeld to use the assessor’s copier, Robinson said. Thinking that the conversation was over, Robinson hung up, only to be confronted by Barlow who “got in my face” and told Robinson to never hang up on her.
A few minutes later, Robinson quit.
Robinson said she did not delete anything from her computer before leaving work and did not know how to delete files on her computer except for Microsoft Word files. Hughes’ report seems to support this claim, noting that, “it became immediately apparent that Robinson is not very tech savvy and that her knowledge of computer and IT systems is limited.”
Robinson said that Barlow asked for her computer password as soon as she quit.
Robinson filed for assessor on Aug. 27 and first heard rumors that she had been accused of “wiping out” records from her computer in late September.
The assessor's office has an electronic communications policy, signed by Robinson on Oct. 13, 2017, which outlines the importance of not deleting emails.
Robinson said she was confident that the forensic examination of her computer would prove her innocence.
Don DeVore is an IT consultant for DigeTekS, the county’s IT contractor since 2015.
When Robinson quit on Aug. 15, Barlow notified DeVore of her departure, but requested continued access to Robinson’s email, according to DeVore.
The normal protocol is to immediately disable the account of the resigning employee upon termination, DeVore said. Barlow did not provide a justification for this diversion from protocol and DeVore did not ask for one.
DeVore said he first became involved with the missing emails on the afternoon of Aug. 27 when Barlow said that she was having difficulty accessing Robinson’s emails through her proxy access.
Earlier in the summer of 2018 while Robinson was out of town, DeVore had given Barlow a “full control proxy” on Robinson’s computer per Barlow’s request. The full control proxy gave Barlow complete access and control over all Robinson’s email functions including reading, responding, deleting and forwarding mail messages. Barlow could access Robinson’s emails simply by signing into her own email.
DeVore said he was confident that he had installed a full proxy despite Barlow’s claims to the contrary. He also said he had never installed full control proxy on the computer of any other county employee.
When DeVore investigated Barlow’s claims about the missing emails, he discovered that nearly all of Robinson’s emails were missing with the exception of a few SPAM emails.
Following DeVore’s attempt to find the deleted emails, he called a Microsoft engineer who attempted to recover the emails remotely and failed. On Aug. 30, DigeTeks attempted to restore the deletions through a third-party software recovery tool without success.
In early September, DigeTekS CEO Shane Brown wrote a summary of the company’s attempts to find the emails. According to the report, on Sept. 10, Barlow emailed Brown asking that he add that the deletion of the emails was a “deliberate and intentional act.” Brown refused to do so.
Brown said that Barlow “pushed hard” for the addition of the language during multiple phone conversations. Brown declined each request, noting that the language was not truthful and it would have been dishonest to include it. According to the report, “Barlow was not happy about Brown’s refusal”.
Hughes noted that providing a summary of his interview with Barlow was difficult as she had a “propensity for digressiveness, non-responsiveness and incongruity in response to questions.”
Hughes also noted that Barlow changed her answers to questions at various points during the interview.
“Inconsistencies that the reader may notice throughout the entirety of this interview report are reflected as stated by Barlow,” Hughes wrote.
For example, Barlow first said she “absolutely did not” ask DeVore to leave Robinson’s email account up and running after Robinson quit. She later said that she “doesn’t believe” she asked DeVore to leave the account open and backtracked on her certainty on the issue.
Barlow also originally said that she did not access Robinson’s computer between Aug. 15 and Aug. 27, but later altered her account to say that, “if she did access Robinson’s computer between 8/15 and 8/27, it was in the presence of DeVore.”
Barlow also originally said she had “suspicions that Robinson deleted emails,” but later said that she “believed that either Robinson deleted the emails or a hacker did.”
Keeping inconsistencies in mind, the broad strokes of Barlow’s testimony are as follows.
Barlow said she shut off Robinson’s computer in Robinson’s presence shortly after Robinson quit. Barlow said she was hard at work on the Concord Energy tax protest and did not have any time to get into Robinson’s emails until Aug. 27, when she accessed them through what she contends was a “view-only proxy,” which only allowed her to read Robinson’s emails.
Barlow said she put the proxy in place at some point in the summer of 2018 after observing “a pattern of inappropriate behavior” on the part of Robinson, specifically Robinson’s refusal to assist other governmental agencies requesting information from the assessor’s office. Barlow said she also didn’t think Robinson was being honest about the emails being sent out and expressed concern that Robinson was using the computer for personal emails.
Barlow notified DeVore of the missing emails on Aug, 27. When DigeTeks couldn’t find the emails, she contacted Ptolemy Data Services of Sheridan to do the same in violation of the county’s IT policy, according to county attorney Tucker Ruby. Barlow said she did not know that hiring an outside IT provider was in violation of county policy although she had access to the county policy manual.
“She did so (hired Ptolemy) because she had an ‘uncomfortable feeling’ about the deletion of emails, was not confident with the lack of findings by DigeTekS and wanted a second opinion just as a person would if they were diagnosed with cancer,” Hughes wrote.
Barlow said she hired Ptolemy following the Oct. 4 candidate forum in which Robinson denied deleting emails. According to Ptolemy, they were contacted nearly a month earlier on Sept. 10.
Ptolemy’s investigation revealed the same results as the DigeTeks investigation: emails had been deleted from Robinson’s account.
Barlow said there will “absolutely not” be any evidence obtained from the forensic investigation showing that she deleted the emails.
The report may be read in its entirety at http://www.johnsoncountywyoming.org/event/final-report-investigation-in-deleted-emails/