- Associated Press - Friday, June 24, 2016

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - Gov. Robert Bentley alerted the FBI to “potentially criminal” actions involving unauthorized access to the state’s crime database and removed two Department of Finance managers, according to documents released by state law enforcement officials Friday.

On June 10, Bentley sent a letter to Assistant FBI Director Stephen Morris saying state law enforcement officials had discovered that several contract employees in the Finance Department had been “improperly granted access” to the computer system, which would be in violation of federal rules. Bentley asked the FBI for help investigating any “non-compliance and/or criminal activity” by current or former Finance Department employees related to the security breach.

States participate in the national clearinghouse of crime data but federal rules limit who can access the system, requiring background checks for people who maintain it and periodic audits for states.

The governor wrote in the letter that Alabama Law Enforcement Secretary Stan Stabler had early this month raised concerns about “improper access” to the system. He said the state law enforcement agency, in the course of investigating, also identified “several major security concerns” in the state’s computer network operated and managed by the Finance Department’s Information Services Division and its contractors and vendors.

“Today, Secretary Stabler informed me that ALEA has met with members of the office of the United States attorney here in Montgomery and confirmed that some of the actions of senior managers within the Department of Finance and its Information Services Division are potentially criminal in nature,” Bentley wrote.

It is not clear from the letter what specific actions were suspected to be criminal. The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency declined to release additional information.

Stabler released Bentley’s letter and others detailing the personnel actions Friday in response to media questions. The documents shed additional light on what Stabler had previously described as the governor requesting the FBI to conduct a “routine administrative audit.”

The governor placed Assistant Finance Director Rex McDowell on administrative leave during the investigation and dismissed Chief Information Officer James Nolin, according to letters released by Stabler. Nolin, who began work earlier this year, was still a probationary employee and could be dismissed immediately.

Andrew Skier, an attorney representing Nolin, said Nolin wasn’t aware of any wrongdoing and had been given no information about what the possible concerns are.

“Mr. Nolin was not offered any explanation for his sudden dismissal from his position with the State of Alabama Department of Finance. The letter from Governor Bentley that has now been made public is the only substantive communication we have had with anyone,” Skier wrote in an email.

Stabler, in a Friday statement, said that his investigators have “secured information system equipment and other documents for further review” as part of the audit.

In the June 10 letter, Bentley wrote that he was “very disheartened to know that the improper actions of a few appear to have had a significant negative impact on the security of the state’s technology resources.”

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