Two Minneapolis city employees are facing misconduct charges after they were accused of wrongly and repeatedly looking up protected information -- including home addresses and driver's license photos.
City officials say the allegations are "very serious," although the gross misdemeanor crime of public employee misconduct may not sound like the sort of fodder for an investigation into a possible identity protection breach.
Lead Inspector Tom Deegan has spent nearly four decades working at Minneapolis City Hall, most recently heading up the housing inspections unit. As of Tuesday night, he is on administrative leave and is facing a misconduct charge.
The charges stunned many at City Hall and the Public Services Center across South 4th Street, which is where the Office of Housing Services is based. Deegan was the face of that unit before he was accused of abusing his access to the state's driver's license database.
"We are always looking for ways to prevent fraud and abuse," Bruce Gordon, director of communications at the Department of Public Safety, said.
The database contains sensitive information, including height, weight and home addresses.
"We want to make sure that access is authorized and legitimate," Gordon added. "That's why we aggressively monitor and audit the database every month.
DPS is responsible for the security of that data, and Gordon said the city of Minneapolis asked auditors to take a close look at how often that information was being accessed by an employee in the housing unit. He declined to say exactly what was found, but he did say that someone in Deegan's role would have work-related reasons to look up certain records.
However, the criminal complaints against Deegan, and colleague Michael Karney, suggest that public employees abused their access.
Deegan declined to comment on the story, but his lawyer denied all wrongdoing and told FOX 9 News that the city encouraged housing staff to access the database information. He added that dozens of people in the office did so using Deegan's password, so it's impossible to tell who looked up what, when they did it, and why.
This isn't the first time there's been an alleged breach of the state's driver's license database by public employees. Not long ago, a Minnesota woman had her information accessed hundreds of times by law enforcement officers across the state. Several of those workers were reprimanded and lost their database privileges.