USF: Suspect who stole hard drive, fled country had ties to Saudi Arabia

A student suspected of breaking into the University of South Florida’s registrar’s office, stealing a hard drive and fleeing the country has ties to Saudi Arabia.

University officials declined to be interviewed for this story, but in an email, a spokeswoman confirmed the suspect is “believed to be of Saudi Arabian descent” and not currently enrolled for the fall semester.

USF police have not named the suspect, but assistant chief Chris Daniel said investigators have had “some communication with him,” though he’s out of the country.

FOX 13 first reported about the crime last week. USF officials confirmed a student is suspected of breaking into the registrar’s office around 2 a.m. on June 27 and removing “property,” including blank transcript paper and the hard drive.

In a signed affidavit, now-retired associate registrar Anthony Embry suggests some USF officials have tried to shield the crime from public view. 

After interviewing with a USF police officer about the crime, Embry says he told the officer that he would be retiring soon and would look for the conclusion of the investigation in the newspaper.

“He informed me that this burglary would never find its way into any newspaper,” Embry said.  

Embry’s affidavit, which was filed last week as part of an unrelated case involving the provost’s office, says he had been contacted by the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission three times in late June to authenticate what turned out to be forged USF transcripts. 

“It was at this time that I learned that the same student that had sent the same forged transcript to SACM was the individual who had broken into the USF Office of the Registrar,” Embry stated, adding that he was asked by his supervisor to not email any documents about the burglary to anyone in the provost’s office and to provide paper copies of all related documents to the provost’s assistant.

Prior to FOX 13’s story, a July 15 crime alert posted on USF police’s website asked for the public’s help identifying a “person of interest” in a theft and burglary seen in surveillance photos, but did not say where the theft occurred and what was taken.

The registrar’s office, where the student stole the hard drive and other property, is the clearinghouse for sensitive student data like schedules, grades and transcripts.

On Thursday, the university says the hard drive did not confirm sensitive information, “with the exception of one individual, a USF employee and a former student.” In an email sent late Tuesday, a spokeswoman said that statement referred to one individual.

“USF and the Office of General Counsel took immediate action to ensure that no personal or sensitive information was affected,” said spokeswoman Lara Wade. She was not immediately able to provide details about what steps were taken.

Daniel said investigators have sent forensic evidence to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to testing in order to confirm the student’s identity and build their case. He did not say what kind of evidence was sent for testing or how they will proceed if the student remains overseas.