TAMPA (FOX 13) - The University of South Florida police department says its investigation into a student suspected of breaking into the Registrar’s Office and stealing a hard drive before fleeing the country remains open and “unchanged.” Meanwhile, the USF office charged with policing employee conduct said the university did nothing wrong in its handling of the June 27 burglary.
The university’s Audit & Compliance Office dismissed a whistleblower’s allegations that the Provost’s Office violated public records laws by telling an assistant to instruct Registrar’s Office staffers to print out and delete emails about the incident, in violation of public records laws.
“The Provost [Ralph Wilcox] indicated that he did not instruct his Special Assistant [Stephanie Williams] to request that any emails regarding the incident be printed and then deleted,” UAC director Kate Head wrote in an August 21 memo to President Judy Genshaft, adding that Williams also denied the allegations.
An unnamed whistleblower first reported concerns to the Florida Board of Governors’ inspector general, which then referred the allegations to the university, according to the memo.
According to the report, the Audit & Compliance Office interviewed three people as part of the investigation: Wilcox, Williams, and then-acting registrar Carrie Garcia. The six-page document, released by the university, does not indicate any additional staffers were interviewed as part of the investigation, nor does it indicate existing emails or documents were gathered as part of the inquiry.
The report also dismissed a whistleblower’s allegations that the university should have warned students of a possible breach of personal information, It says its Information Technology department didn’t find evidence that student records were impacted, but the report doesn’t indicate how IT was able to make that determination.
The report also said the nature of the crime didn’t rise to the level of a notification under the Clery Act, a law which requires universities to warn students of crimes that pose an immediate threat to safety.
LINK: Read the full report (PDF)
The university had not spoken publicly about the June 27 Registrar’s Office break-in until contacted by FOX 13 last month. The audit doesn’t shed light on how the student, an international student from Saudi Arabia whom the university has not been named publicly, was able to evade the detection of university police or whether potential security vulnerabilities in the Registrar’s Office building have been addressed.
Police responded four times to motion alarms within the Registrar’s Office on the night of the burglary but did not find anything amiss, according to a redacted incident report released by USF police.
The whistleblower’s allegations are similar to what a now-retired Registrar’s Office employee wrote in a signed affidavit about the incident, which was filed as part of an unrelated court case involving the Provost’s Office. In it, former associate Anthony Embry says he was instructed to print out emails about the incident and keep the Provost’s Office out of email communications, but did not say he was asked to delete them.
Embry also says a USF police detective told him that news of the burglary would “never find its way into any newspaper.”
According to the memo, the Audit and Compliance Office contacted Embry’s then-boss, Carrie Garcia, after learning of the affidavit. Garcia told the UAC that she directed staffers to not email information about the break-in since it was part of a criminal investigation.
“Advising someone not to use email to discuss matters directly impacting an active investigation is a prudent action to take,” Head writes in her findings.
There were more than 3,000 international students including 142 Saudi Arabian students, enrolled in the USF system in Spring 2015. Wilcox has made the recruitment of international students and creation of partnerships with international universities a focus of his tenure at USF.
University of South Florida police have yet to send a criminal case to the State Attorney’s Office.