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Findings of IT probe under review
Director resigns; hearing on new trial delayed
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Forsyth County News

Forsyth County’s information technology director has resigned in the wake of allegations that he may have obstructed justice in a federal child pornography case.

County officials are reviewing the findings of a computer forensics expert hired to investigate J.D. Rusk's conduct.

Rusk could not be reached for comment Monday. Prior to Friday's resignation, he had been suspended with pay for more than two months.

The matter stems from a federal case against former Forsyth County Sheriff’s deputy Milton Scott Pruitt, who was convicted this summer. His sentencing was delayed after the allegations surfaced in October.

Pruitt’s attorney filed a motion for a new trial. A hearing on the issue was postponed Friday.

Officials with the U.S. Attorney's Office did not know why the hearing was delayed or when it might be rescheduled.

Rusk was placed on administrative leave with pay Oct. 9, one day after Pruitt's attorney, Ann Fitz, requested the new trial for her client.

Brian Converse, the county's network administration manager, has assumed Rusk's position on an interim basis.

County spokeswoman Jodi Gardner said last week that Rusk has not been reinstated.

A jury convicted Pruitt in July on two counts of receiving child pornography on his work and home computers.

Questions arose during the trial over whether Rusk appropriately made information available to the defense’s computer forensics expert, Tami Loehrs.

In August, the county hired Loehrs, who is based in Arizona, for $21,000 to examine a server in what was referred to as “an internal human resources issue.” Her work began Oct. 5.

Gardner said in a statement that Loehrs’ report, along with other documents, is still being evaluated.

Gardner also noted that while the county commission is familiar with the issue, County Manager Doug Derrer is handling it because it is a personnel matter.

According to the new trial motion, Loehrs found what she said was proof that Rusk purposely withheld evidence from her.

The motion contends that Rusk implied in court that Loehrs was not given access to a county server days before the trial because it had “either been lost or erased and placed into service in another department.”

The motion also alleges that Rusk lied when he testified that he did not know the state’s record retention laws.

Within hours of beginning her investigation, the motion claims, Loehrs found e-mails showing Rusk knew before the trial where the server she wanted to examine was located.

The Forsyth County News obtained Loehrs’ report, as well as accounts of the events filed by Rusk and Converse, through an open records request.

In her report, Loehrs accuses Rusk of impeding her investigation of electronic information leading up to the trial.

She contends he “knowingly and purposely led me on a wild goose chase through a virtual computer system that could not be accessed forensically and did not contain the data responsive to the scope and purpose of my examination.”

She points out that Converse, during phone calls in August and September, was able to find the server she wanted and on Oct. 5 provided her access within five minutes.

She also maintains that Rusk told her he was not aware of any retention policy the county was required to follow.

Her report includes a copy of an e-mail sent to him and dated July 9 from the Henry County director of technology services about state retention laws.

Rusk’s report shows he and other employees were unable to find any files relating to Pruitt’s employee account.

He wrote that an e-mail message indicating a folder containing the files in question was found was sent in error.

“A full follow-up search of the server by both myself and (David Windover, network analyst) showed neither the folder nor the files existed there.”

Rusk contends that he complied with Loehrs’ request to access the server Pruitt logged into in 2007 once it was found.

He wrote that the defense’s motion mistakenly refers to two different servers as the same one.

According to his account, “The first server is the former Remote Access server brought in from the Juvenile Justice Center that Ms. Loehrs examined in July. The second server is the file server mistakenly identified as a possible location for the MSPruitt files due to a misinterpreted computer-generated e-mail message.”

Rusk explained it was never his “intention to mislead or hinder any examination of any county computer.”

His report does not address whether he was aware of the state’s record retention laws.

In addition, Loehrs wrote that in July, Rusk manually searched for the keyword “Pruitt” on the county’s e-mail server but was unable to find any messages related to the search.

The report goes on to say that he conducted the search through a single e-mail account, which only contained messages automatically generated from the system.

When she searched the same server in October, the report shows, Loehrs “recovered over 1.7 million hits and found many e-mails referencing Mr.

Pruitt that were relevant to the scope and purpose of my examination."

"In addition, I found e-mails that revealed Mr. Rusk knew of locations where data responsive to the scope and purpose of my examination would have been found but failed to identify or provide access to.”

She concludes that her October investigation did not require that she conduct a thorough and complete forensics examination to locate all evidence important to Pruitt’s defense. She added that such evidence could still be on the county’s system.

Converse was not involved in the July investigation.

His report concurs with Rusk’s assertion that the e-mail message indicating the existence of files on one of the county’s servers related to Pruitt’s account was a mistake.

Converse noted, however, that Loehrs did find on a computer pulled from the sheriff’s south precinct a fragment of a folder and other supporting data that possibly represented activity associated with Pruitt’s profile.

“I was not shown the data only notified,” Converse wrote.

He also reported that Loehrs told him she found e-mails, sent before her July investigation, informing Rusk about the state’s record retention laws.

What Loehrs discovered in the first day of her investigation concerned U.S. District Court Judge William O’Kelley so much that three days later, he delayed Pruitt’s sentencing.

Although he and others questioned Loehrs’ loyalties in the investigation, he wanted to give her time to complete her probe.

Pruitt faces five to 20 years in prison on the federal charges.

Rusk reported to authorities in 2007 that Pruitt, who at the time was a patrol sergeant, had used his county-issued laptop computer that March to open images of child pornography kept in an investigator’s electronic files.

Testimony revealed that Pruitt was not authorized to open the images.

Pruitt was fired from the sheriff’s office in May 2007 after the accusations surfaced. He ran for sheriff in 2008 and finished a distant second to incumbent Ted Paxton in a three-man race.

A local grand jury indicted Pruitt in November 2008 on charges in connection with the federal case.

He pleaded not guilty to the state charges in December 2008 and that case has not yet gone to trial.