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Accuser: Crist shielded lax personnel contractor

The former Convergys worker says the attorney general refused to investigate security breaches of employee data due to political ties.

Published March 25, 2006

TALLAHASSEE - A former Convergys Corp. employee who complained about the company's mishandling of state workers' personnel information lodged an ethics charge Friday against Attorney General Charlie Crist.

Sam McDowell told the Commission on Ethics that Crist refused to check out his complaints about lax security because of the attorney general's ties to Brian Ballard, a Convergys lobbyist and adviser to Crist's gubernatorial campaign.

"The Attorney General's Office is shielding Convergys. They're protecting them, and I feel that there is an ethical problem there," McDowell said in an interview. "A government office should not be used to protect private industry."

A spokeswoman for Crist called the accusation without merit and said that for more than a year, Crist's office has been monitoring a "contract dispute." Convergys declined to comment, saying it hadn't seen the complaint.

McDowell slapped a similar complaint Friday against George LeMieux, Crist's former chief of staff who manages Crist's campaign for governor. Neither ethics complaint cited a specific provision in state ethics laws.

The state is seeking to fine Convergys $5-million after one of its former subcontractors, GDXdata of Denver, shipped personnel information on as many as 110,000 state workers to India, Barbados and possibly China for processing. McDowell's accusations are another sign that the $350-million Convergys contract is a potential headache for Crist, whose bid for governor is based partly on a claim that he is a champion of consumers. Last year, Crist's office declined to join in a lawsuit filed by two former GDXdata employees who said the mishandling of workers' information might have resulted in widespread identity theft.

McDowell, 32, a Tallahassee native and former Air Force sergeant, said he was forced to resign his job on Convergys' People First contract last year. He said in an affidavit that he watched Convergys employees access confidential information on high-level state employees, including Gov. Jeb Bush, Crist, and Crist's Republican primary opponent, Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher.

McDowell's attorney, Steve Andrews, supports Gallagher and donated $500 to Gallagher's campaign for governor in June 2005, campaign records show. But the lawyer said McDowell's complaint is about lax security and identity theft - not politics.

"It is not a political thing," Andrews said.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents rank-and-file state employees, issued a statement Friday saying it was satisfied with Crist's actions in the Convergys case.

Steve Bousquet is at or 850 224-7263.

[Last modified March 25, 2006, 01:50:17]

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