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E-mail inquiry yields 2d computer

Machine may hold most of Menino aide’s data

SEARCHING FOR E-MAILS Mayoral aide Michael J. Kineavy reported his computer was running slowly on April 6, five days after the Globe requested copies of his e-mails. SEARCHING FOR E-MAILS
Mayoral aide Michael J. Kineavy reported his computer was running slowly on April 6, five days after the Globe requested copies of his e-mails.
By Donovan Slack and Hiawatha Bray
Globe Staff / October 6, 2009

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Boston officials acknowledged yesterday that they have discovered a second computer used by chief mayoral aide Michael J. Kineavy, a hard drive tucked away in a sixth-floor office that may contain the bulk of the e-mail subpoenaed by federal authorities and formally requested by the Globe.

The computer, the officials said, was on Kineavy’s desk until it was replaced in April, after Kineavy complained it had been operating too slowly. The discovery directly contradicts prior assertions by the city that Kineavy’s computer had not been replaced in more than two years.

City corporation counsel William F. Sinnott said in an interview yesterday that he had been relying on what Kineavy had told him and that Kineavy, the mayor’s chief policy aide and key political strategist, still does not remember getting a new computer.

“There’s been nothing to indicate he hasn’t been up front,’’ Sinnott said.

The city’s chief of information technology, William Oates, whose department found Kineavy’s old computer, said that the machine has not been used by anyone since it was replaced and that the city has now turned it over to a computer forensics firm. The firm will try to retrieve e-mails requested by the Globe, as well as e-mails subpoenaed by a federal grand jury last fall.

The subpoena, issued in a public corruption case against former state senator Dianne Wilkerson and Councilor Chuck Turner, demanded copies of any messages Kineavy exchanged with Wilkerson, Turner, or their aides between March 2007 and February 2008, according to two public officials briefed on the subpoena who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation.

The discovery of another hard drive marks the latest twist in an ongoing effort to recover e-mails that Kineavy deleted in potential violation of the state public records law. The law requires city employees to save e-mails for at least two years, even if they have “no informational or evidential value.’’

After the Globe reported Sept. 13 that Kineavy routinely double-deleted his messages - dragged them to the trash and then emptied them from the trash, in a way that they were not saved by city backup servers - Secretary of State William F. Galvin ordered the city to seize Kineavy’s computer and hire a forensics firm to try to retrieve his deleted e-mails. The newspaper also had reported that city officials produced only 18 e-mails in response to a public records request for electronic correspondence sent or received by Kineavy between Oct. 1, 2008, and April 1. City officials blamed the low number on Kineavy’s double deletion.

Yesterday, a spokesman for Galvin declined to comment specifically about the newly discovered hard drive, but said the secretary of state is still waiting for more information from the city.

“We’re still expecting more information from them in addition to what has been provided so far,’’ said the spokesman, Brian McNiff. “Whatever it comes from and whatever the parameters of the request were, we’re expecting to hear more, more information and more e-mails.’’

The Globe submitted its first request for copies of Kineavy’s e-mails on April 1. On April 6, Kineavy reported that his computer was running slowly, and after three exchanges with city computer technicians, Kineavy received his new computer on April 24.

City officials said there was no link between the public records request and the computer repair job. But Pamela H. Wilmot - executive director of Common Cause of Massachusetts, a nonprofit watchdog organization - was skeptical.

“It certainly raises questions when the timing between the records request and the request for a new computer follow each other so closely, especially in light of the lack of disclosure of receipt of a new computer,’’ Wilmot said. “Getting a new computer isn’t something one easily forgets.’’

The computer forensics firm hired by the city, StoneTurn Group, which spoke with the Globe only after receiving permission to do so from the city, said it received the newly discovered hard drive Friday afternoon. Simon D. Platt, a partner at the firm, said questions about whether Kineavy had changed computers were provoked by a search of his most recent hard drive, which turned up e-mails by a law department employee.

When Kineavy went through them, city officials said, he asked Oates why they included e-mails that did not belong to him.

Oates then determined that Kineavy’s computer had been replaced earlier this year, and he took steps to retrieve the old computer and the backed-up files and turn them over to StoneTurn.

Platt said the company has already started examining the older hard drive, but doesn’t expect results for a few days. He said the firm’s work on the first computer so far has cost roughly $25,000, and exhaustive searches of either drive could cost up to $250,000, because no automated tool can pick out individual e-mail messages from the vast amount of scrambled data that remain on the drives.

Platt said his investigators found 40,000 instances of Kineavy’s name on the older hard drive, but that the only way to determine whether those instances were e-mails was to have human beings examine each mention. It’s a slow process, and a costly one, since StoneTurn charges between $150 and $300 an hour.

Platt said he doubted that the information obtained from such a search could justify the cost. “I have a reasonable basis to say you’re not going to get much benefit,’’ he said.

Records show Kineavy sent or received an average of 614 e-mails per week since the city instituted a program in August that saves copies of every e-mail sent or received by every city employee. At that rate, he would have sent or received and then deleted 15,964 e-mails during a six-month period.

So far the city has released 5,018 e-mails Kineavy exchanged with other city employees that were saved in their e-mail boxes. Messages he exchanged solely with anyone outside City Hall were not included because city officials have said retrieving them would be too costly.

Donovan Slack can be reached at dslack@globe.com.