Two legislative employees who were suspended from their jobs after refusing to allow the erasure of computer tapes that might be important to the FBI’s investigation of suspected Capitol corruption returned to work Monday and were promptly reassigned to “less sensitive” duties.
Both employees, Michael Parr and Paul Huelskamp, confirmed that they had been reassigned.
A source in the legislative counsel’s office, which oversees the Legislature’s computer system, said both men had been given “less sensitive” jobs that will take them away from direct contact with the computer files. The two were told by supervisors that they had “breached a trust” between the office and the Legislature, said the source, who asked not to be identified.
Huelskamp, a four-year state employee, said in an interview that he had been transferred from a supervisorial post to performing “special projects.”
“I can advise and consult and write reports, but I will not be able to work on any computer systems myself,” he said. “I didn’t debate or argue. I just decided to keep my mouth shut. I didn’t figure a debate was what they wanted to hear at that point. . . . I don’t expect any more punitive measures to come.”
Parr, formerly supervisor of a 19-member unit that handled computer tasks for the Legislature ranging from keeping track of floor votes to following the path of bills through both houses, told The Times he does not know what his new duties will be.
“I spent most of the day packing my things,” Parr said.
Parr, a 15-year state employee, would not elaborate on the incident.
Parr and Huelskamp have been on paid leave since Sept. 16, pending an internal investigation.
The two employees acted to save the tapes after discovering that an unusually high number of files being were purged from the Legislature’s computer on Aug. 25, the day after the FBI searched the offices of four lawmakers.
The searches were the culmination of a 2 1/2-year FBI sting operation aimed at uncovering bribery and extortion in the Legislature. So far, Assembly Republican Leader Pat Nolan of Glendale, Assembly members Frank Hill (R-Whittier) and Gwen Moore (D-Los Angeles), Sen. Joseph B. Montoya (D-Whittier) and former Democratic Sen. Paul Carpenter of Norwalk, now a member of the Board of Equalization, have been named as subjects of the probe.
Huelskamp, whose job included daily monitoring of the Legislature’s computer system, noticed a tenfold increase--from about 70 to more than 700--in the number of files being deleted the day after the FBI raid.
Huelskamp acted to extend the life of the magnetic tapes that back up the computer system. The 13 tapes, similar in appearance to eight-track tape cartridges, normally would have been erased after 14 days, but Huelskamp’s action ensured that they would be saved until the end of the year.
Later, after the tapes were handed over to Parr, he refused an order from a supervisor to return them to their original condition, which would have ensured their erasure. Instead, sources have told The Times, Parr called the FBI and told the agency of the situation.
The FBI sought the tapes as possible evidence in its corruption probe. But Legislative Counsel Bion Gregory, who is the Legislature’s lawyer and also oversees the computer system, refused to give them to the FBI, according to a source close to Gregory’s office. The source, declining to elaborate, said the tapes were turned over to a “neutral” party.
Gregory has since hired a lawyer to represent him in the matter. The lawyer, William Shubb, a former U.S. attorney in Sacramento, declined to comment on the case when reached Monday by The Times. Gregory was out of town, and his chief deputy, Jack Horton, also refused to comment.
The Times has reported that employees of the GOP Caucus, headed by Assembly Republican leader Nolan, purged computer files the day after the FBI searches because they feared they would be accused of illegally doing political work on state time and equipment.
Copies of Tapes
It is not clear whether those files, which outlined strategies for campaigning against several Democratic incumbents, were duplicated on the Legislature’s mainframe computer that was monitored by Huelskamp and Parr.
Those familiar with the Legislature’s computer operation say it is possible that a sudden increase in purging noted by Huelskamp is part of routine, end-of-session legislative housekeeping, although he did not actually know the substance of the material and was concerned about the heavy purging. “I thought it might be useful for the FBI,” he later told The Times.
Times staff writers Paul Jacobs and Jeffrey L. Rabin contributed to this story.