Fmr. Adams Co. clerk cleared of criminal wrongdoing in DCI investigation

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FRIENDSHIP, Wis. (WSAW) -- An Adams County board supervisor, Fred Nickel, told 7 Investigates he will ask the board during its meeting Tuesday night to schedule a special session to review the Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) report against its former clerk and IT director.

Former clerk, Cindy Phillipi and former IT director, Dawn McGhee were accused of exposing personal information of more than 250,000 people in a county data breach. Phillipi was also accused of mishandling accounts that held revenue as a result of acting as a licensing agent for the Department of Transportation and Department of Natural Resources.

In the DCI report, the special agent ultimately asks to close the case because he "did not find evidence to support criminal charges."

According to the report, county manager and administrative coordinator, Casey Bradley told the agent he was hired in August, 2017 and said he quickly heard about "anomalies" about how Phillipi handled some funds and accessed private information.

At the beginning of 2018, Bradley hired a lawyer, Joseph Russell from von Briesen and Roper to investigate "Phillipi with regard to the fulfillment of her official duties under Wisconsin law, Adams County Ethics Ordinance, Adams County Employee Handbook, and state and federal privacy laws. A month later he also hired IT auditing firm, Schenck SC to do an audit of the county's IT system.

That March, Bradley told the agent the county asked the Wood County Sheriff's Office to have exclusive control over the administrator accounts to prevent unauthorized access to accounts during the audit, which the reported stated caused "significant disruptions to Adams County's functioning."

McGhee told 7 Investigates she ultimately retired in May of 2018 because it was either that or be fired.

Phillipi resigned in September, 2018. She told 7 Investigates she could not afford to continue having legal representation at the time and her lawyers recommended she resign so she could at least receive her benefits, unused sick and vacation time, as well as severance pay.

She maintained to 7 Investigates that she did not do anything wrong.

While the DCI agent noted in several search warrants that he found the information from the county and its investigation and audit truthful and reliable, Phillipi was ultimately not interviewed by the county's hired lawyer and auditor.

According to the lawyer's report, "Although Ms. Phillipi initially agreed to be interviewed, she terminated her interview with IC (independent counsel, von Briesen & Roper) after approximately four minutes. Ms. Phillipi's stated rationale for terminating the interview was that she was 'not comfortable' and that she 'need[ed]' to have somebody [else] present."

The DCI agent interviewed McGhee and Phillipi earlier this year, giving their accounts as to the accusations against them. Phillipi also offered documents she believed were relevant to corroborate her actions.

He ultimately requested to close the case in July, finding no evidence to support criminal charges.