Audit finds adult materials on library CEO's computers

jcheves@herald-leader.comDecember 4, 2009 

A city audit of the Lexington Public Library turned up 1,522 "adult materials" on the laptop computer assigned to Kathleen Imhoff, the library's former chief executive, that were not illegal but were in violation of library policy.

In addition, more than 14,000 files were deleted from Imhoff's computers after she was notified not to alter or remove any documents, the audit said. The library challenged the finding about deletions in part, saying many files were removed by an automatic process used to clean out the files.

"Ms. Imhoff has done absolutely nothing wrong," said Richard Getty, Imhoff's attorney. The lawyer criticized both auditors and the library board for not letting Imhoff participate in the investigation.

In an interview Thursday, Imhoff said that she learned in February that there were adult images on the laptop, which she used at home. However, she said that someone else in her home — she did not know who — must have viewed them. She did not.

"There are other people who visit her house from time to time," Getty said. "Friends, family members."

Imhoff also denied that she deleted any files after the audit began. She said her office was burglarized several times, compromising her computer's security, and other library employees had network access to her computer.

The audit found that Imhoff pursued unauthorized outside employment using library time and resources, and that there were tens of thousands of dollars in "questionable spending" on library credit cards, which were not used according to library policy.

Auditors found that from 2003 to this year, $897,411 was charged to library credit cards for purchases from 965 different vendors. "The sheer volume of activity, and the limited amount of detail support" made it difficult to assess the legitimacy of the expenditures, they said.

The audit was made public Thursday and provided to Mayor Jim Newberry and the Urban County Council.

City auditors started to examine the library in April after State Auditor Crit Luallen talked with Newberry. The Herald-Leader detailed more than $134,000 in spending by Imhoff on travel, meals, gifts and other items over five years, with little oversight or explanation. The articles included credit card and cash expenditures. Most of the library's $15 million annual budget comes from Fayette County property taxes.

The library board fired Imhoff in July, shortly after Newberry removed the board's chairman and vice chairman. Getty reiterated Thursday that Imhoff intends to sue for wrongful termination.

Several prosecutors said it's possible but unlikely that the case could lead to criminal charges. Statutes such as official misconduct probably wouldn't apply, said Tim Coleman, the commonwealth's attorney from Butler County.

Chris Cohron, the past president of the Commonwealth's Attorney's Association, said a charge of unlawful access to a computer in the fourth degree, a misdemeanor that would carry a maximum penalty of 90 days in jail, is a possibility, especially if someone other than Imhoff used the laptop to download the adult material.

Among their recommendations, city auditors advised that all library credit cards be canceled and replaced, if necessary, with a limited number of procurement cards that cannot be used for non-business purposes. In its written response to the audit, the library board, which had already reduced the number of credit cards in employee hands, said that it intends to take that advice and pledged broad reforms in how the library spends its money and monitors its spending.

Larry Smith, recently chosen as library board chairman, declined on Thursday to say much about the audit's findings.

"There were certainly some things that were questionable, and we've tried to address them," Smith said.

Mayor Jim Newberry praised the work of the city auditors and said it's important that public organizations be held accountable.

"I am encouraged by the steps the (library) board has already taken," Newberry said. "But I think the board needs some new blood. I have already appointed several new people, and I will continue to do so, when appropriate."

The auditors focused on several areas, including:

Credit cards. In general, the library had too many credit cards that were used too frequently, sometimes without supporting documentation to justify it, the audit said. Out of the nearly $900,000 in expenditures, the largest individual sum — $119,932 — was charged by Imhoff on her card.

Spending was not curbed by a September 2007 warning from the library's own auditors about questionable use of the credit cards, the audit said.

"It appears that at times management neither followed the guidelines and policies that were in effect nor enforced the policies and procedures with staff," auditors wrote.

Adult materials. A forensic expert found 1,522 images depicting "adult material" on Imhoff's laptop computer, the audit said. Auditors did not specify what the material was. They did say it violated library policy on inappropriate images, but was not illegal, meaning it did not involve child pornography. Some of the images were among the files that were deleted from Imhoff's laptop after the audit began, the audit said.

Outside employment. Aside from her $137,035-a-year post as library chief executive, Imhoff took private consulting work on the side while on the job at the library, using library computers, the audit said. She did not get permission for this outside work, as policy required.

One of her clients, the nonprofit Online Computer Library Center, paid her $4,600 for unspecified work done in late 2008, the audit said. In the past three years, the library has purchased $86,340 in goods and services from the center and spent $59,195 with one of its regional providers, which raises conflict-of-interest concerns, auditors wrote.

On Thursday, Imhoff said she never handled her outside work on library time.

Deleted records. Documents, spreadsheets and Web browsers were deleted from Imhoff's two computers after the audit began, despite instructions to Imhoff from the library board's attorneys to delete nothing, the audit said. More than half of all the files deleted from her computers since 2006 were deleted in the weeks after Imhoff was told to save everything, auditors wrote.

In its written response, the library board said it hired a forensic computer expert to study Imhoff's computers. The expert concluded that many of Imhoff's files were deleted not manually but automatically by a systemic maintenance process, the board wrote.

"The majority of the deleted files are the remnants of Internet use, called temporary Internet files, and appear to have been deleted using typical user initiated 'clean up' processes," the library board wrote. "The library has been unable to determine at this point how the defragmentation process was activated on the laptop or by whom."

Bonus payments. The audit noted that the library has given two forms of bonuses to employees that may not be legal. The library gave more than $870,000 to about 200 employees during the time period based on points earned in their annual evaluations. And a "rapid rewards program" gave workers one-time rewards of $100 for exceptional work.

Such bonuses are not allowed at taxpayer funded entities, according to the auditors.