Deleted Pennsylvania emails may number million; cover-up denied
HARRISBURG — Up to 1 million emails may have been deleted in 2011 and 2012 when an interim state attorney general decided his office should retain emails only six months, though officials say no cover-up of sensitive investigations spurred the deletion.
When he was attorney general, Gov. Tom Corbett required the office to keep emails for five years. The office's former information technology director, Jim Ignalzo, said on Wednesday that his staff recommended Corbett's successor, longtime aide William H. Ryan Jr., reduce the retention period because of storage and cost issues.
“It was a cost issue and a management issue,” said Ignalzo, 66, a state retiree in Hershey. Senior managers typically kept up to 10,000 emails each in their computers. Overall, “it could have been a million,” Ignalzo said.
Ryan ordered the email policy change a month after taking over in January 2011, Attorney General Kathleen Kane's investigators found when reviewing Corbett's investigation of sex offender Jerry Sandusky to see whether his arrest was delayed until November 2011 for political reasons — something Corbett strongly denies.
Emails related to criminal cases were imbedded in files and preserved, Ignalzo said. Prosecutors had discretion over what to keep, he said.
“The six-month retention period was startlingly short,” said William Fetterhoff, a Harrisburg defense lawyer who represented a Democrat and a Republican prosecuted for public corruption during Corbett's tenure. “It is even more startling, given the importance Corbett gave to other (emails) used against a variety of other legislators.”
Corbett's investigation of the Legislature resulted in 23 convictions largely based on use of public resources for campaigns.
Prosecutors used emails, “many of which went back five to seven years,” Fetterhoff said, as evidence against staffers and ex-legislative leaders.
Joel Sansone, a Downtown Pittsburgh lawyer who represented convicted ex-House Democratic Whip Mike Veon, formerly of Beaver Falls, dismissed the claim that cost drove the decision to change the email policy.
“Of course I don't buy it,” Sansone said. He contends emails were deliberately dumped to protect prosecutors.
Key evidence against Veon in his 2010 trial included House Democratic emails.
Kane is reconstructing deleted emails. Their deletion contributed to the delay of her investigation, she has said.
Her investigation fulfills a campaign promise to dig into whether Corbett delayed the Sandusky investigation to win the November 2010 gubernatorial election. When she took office in 2013, Kane decided the Attorney General's Office would keep emails for two years.
Normally, upon conviction of a serial child abuser such as Sandusky, a former Penn State University football coach, “You expect people to say, ‘Hey, good job' — and it was a good job,” Ryan said. “They took a child predator off the streets and he is effectively spending the rest of his life in prison.”
Ryan said he “doesn't like it at all” that Kane is investigating the prior administration's investigation.
One reason it took nearly three years to bring a case against Sandusky was the use of a statewide grand jury that met once a month, he said.
“It was absolutely necessary to use the grand jury” to compel witnesses' testimony, Ryan said.
A National Association of State Attorneys General spokesperson said the group doesn't have a “best practice” figure for retaining email.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine's office determines how long to keep papers or emails based on their “content.” General correspondence is kept for six months; press releases, four years; a file of legal advice for a client, five years; and criminal documents are kept until appeals conclude and then are reviewed for further retention.
Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media's state Capitol reporter. Reach him at 717-787-1405 or firstname.lastname@example.org.