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Fired worker: Holt sanctioned software piracy

A former technician says he installed $170,000 of stolen software as his boss ordered and the public defender supported it.

By AMY HERDY

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 16, 2000


TAMPA -- During most of his 21/2 years as a top computer technician for the Hillsborough County Public Defender's office, Scott Moore was considered a skilled and diligent employee.

But when he was sent to a computer training class last year, Moore said he concluded that some of the work he had been told to do was illegal.

Moore said he unwittingly installed about $170,000 in pirated software on the office computers. He said his boss, Michael Effner, ordered the work. When he later told Effner it was against the law, Effner told him not to worry about it, Moore said.

Moore said he later raised the issue during a private meeting with Public Defender Julie Holt. She also told him not to worry, he said.

"She said, "I'm not really worried about Microsoft'," Moore recalls. " "They're not going to come mess with us.' "

So Moore said he continued installing pirated software. But the practice bothered him, he said. When he raised the issue during a meeting of the technical staff, Moore said Effner told him not to talk about it so no written record would be made.

Soon after completing his training, Moore said Effner told him to find another job. Moore refused and eventually was stripped of his duties and given menial tasks. On May 4, Moore was fired for allegedly printing out office salaries, he said. Moore denies the charge.

Holt has declined to comment, except to say that Moore is carrying out a threat to embarrass her.

Effner, Holt's communications director until May 12, denied Moore's allegations. "Mr. Moore would never have been directed to illegally copy any software," Effner said. The office was licensed for every copy of software, he added.

Besides troubleshooting computer problems, Moore said his $30,000-a-year job included repairing and installing software on about 250 computers at the office. The software included Windows 95, Microsoft Office Pro 4.3 and 5.0 and Office 97.

Moore, 30, said he assumed the office had an agreement to copy the software. "We bought very little software," said Moore, 30. The office paid $4,798 for the software Moore said he copied, records show. The number of copies Moore said he installed would cost about $170,000 if properly licensed, according to estimates of vendors used by the Public Defender's Office.

Last year, Holt agreed to spend $7,000 to send Moore to a six-month class to become a Microsoft certified systems engineer. He had been promoted recently, and Holt thought the training would enhance his skills, records show.

In mid-October, Moore said he met with Holt at a South Tampa coffee shop to discuss several issues. Among them, he said, were pirated software and his working on staff members' personal computers on county time.

"She told me that if she had to choose between Mike or me, she would choose Mike," Moore recalled.

The month before that meeting, Moore said he reported the software pirating to Microsoft.

Microsoft would neither confirm nor deny that it is investigating. Moore said Microsoft representatives questioned him by telephone last month. The investigator said Effner told them that Holt had approved the pirating, Moore said. Effner, however, said he hasn't talked to any investigator.

Federal copyright law forbids unauthorized copying of software, but Microsoft attorney Nick Psyhogeos said the company tries to settle such disputes amicably. Microsoft generally requests a company to conduct a "self inventory," Psyhogeos said.

"Sometimes we'll work toward a reconciliation," Psyhogeos said. If the principal of the company is uncooperative and the pirating is widespread, Microsoft would pursue legal action, he said.

An April 5 memo by Effner mentions an audit of all software installed in the past four years.

Moore has no documentation to show he was told to copy the software or that he told anyone about his concerns. He said Effner sent his instructions by e-mail.

Mitch Traphagen, a computer technician for theoffice from December 1998 until October 1999, said he does not recall pirated software discussed during meetings. Traphagen also said he found it hard to believe.

"Neither Holt nor Effner would have tolerated that," he said.

But Dale Cordova, another former employee, said he remembers Moore's concern and Effner's dismissive attitude.

Cordova, an office clerk from 1994 until he quit this month, said he recalled Moore telling him what he had learned from the Microsoft class. "Scott was very concerned about it," Cordova recalled. "He said Effner just didn't care."

Moore said he returned to work March 22 after calling in sick the day before to discover his office locks changed and his computer account deleted. "I was told to do whatever my responsibilities were for that day," he recalled. That included changing toner on printers, he said, and cleaning storage rooms.

Moore worked for nearly four years for Hillsborough Property Appraiser Ron Alderman, who suspended him for three days in October 1996 for campaigning on county time.

A St. Petersburg Times reporter had seen Moore moving Alderman campaign signs from one county vehicle to another during work hours. Moore said he was on personal time. He left the office in December 1996 after Alderman was defeated, and Moore had worked as a computer technician for various companies until joining Holt's office in December 1997.

Records show above-average evaluations for Moore, who was described as skillful, reliable and "willing to go the extra mile."

Holt said she would not comment on Moore's allegations until the Times' public records requests, first made May 23, were completed. They were finished Wednesday, but a Holt spokesman said she could not meet with a reporter until late next week.

She did, however, suggest that Moore had threatened to embarrass her through one of his cousins who works for the St. Petersburg Times.

Within hours of receiving the newspaper's first public records request, Holt came to the Times' Tampa office to meet with editorial writer John Hill. She denied Moore's allegations and said Moore had told her he could get any story he wanted in the Times through Hill. She said she was warning Hill his name might come up if a story about Moore were published.

Three members of Moore's family who worked for Holt have been forced out since he was fired.

Moore's wife, Wanda, a secretary in the capital crimes division, was fired four days after Moore. His brother, Michael, a mail clerk, said he was asked to resign because of "circumstances" with his brother. He quit May 12. His father, Joe, an investigator, said he was fired May 23 after complaining to Holt about fellow employees having sex in the office.

-- Amy Herdy can be reached at (813) 226-3474 or herdy@sptimes.com.

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