Assistant testifies Painter oddly suspicious of ATC staff

Advocate file photo by BILL FEIG -- Former state Alcohol and Tobacco Control Commissioner Murphy Painter leaves Baton Rouge state court in this February 2011 photo. Show caption
Advocate file photo by BILL FEIG -- Former state Alcohol and Tobacco Control Commissioner Murphy Painter leaves Baton Rouge state court in this February 2011 photo.

ATC chief protected his computer

Fired state Alcohol and Tobacco Control Commissioner Murphy Painter was suspicious of his staff and did not grant them access to his computer, a former administrative assistant testified Friday.

Painter conducted constant internal investigations where he thought there was wrongdoing,” Kelli Suire Votaw testified in Baton Rouge at Painter’s trial on computer fraud, false statement and aggravated identity theft charges.

Votaw told Painter attorney Michael S. Fawer that Painter “thought everybody was doing something wrong.”

Added Votaw: “I never saw it.”

Painter, 60, of Gonzales, saw things differently when he testified in a pretrial hearing.

“I trusted my staff,” Painter testified last month. He added he left his office for hours, leaving the room open and his computer unlocked.

“My computer would not lock (automatically) when I left (the office),” Painter added at that hearing. “It never locked.”

Painter testified in November that five members of his staff, including Votaw, always had access to his office, desktop computer and passwords.

Votaw testified Friday she did not have Painter’s access codes to law enforcement databases and staff members were not allowed to use his desktop computer.

“It was off limits when he was not there,” Votaw told Assistant U.S. Attorney M. Patricia Jones.

“Do you think he would have given his passwords to anyone?” Jones asked.

“No, absolutely not,” Votaw said. She added, however, that Painter once told her his computer password and directed her to locate some information he needed from it. She said she never logged onto his computer again.

Votaw also told Jones that Painter’s computer automatically locked after a period of time when it was not in use.

Also Friday, Votaw testified she often saw Painter write down vehicle license plate numbers whenever they drove somewhere.

“It struck me as odd,” Votaw said.

Jones asked whether Painter and Votaw were conducting surveillance when he took down license plate numbers.

“Not to my knowledge,” said Votaw. She said her duties did not include those of a criminal investigator.

Votaw moved to Florida last year after the administration of Gov. Bobby Jindal granted her $100,000 to settle her claims that Painter harassed and stalked her after she left ATC for another job.

Painter has denied the harassment and stalking allegations, and they were not mentioned in Votaw’s testimony Friday.

Painter is accused of using his access to federal and state law enforcement databases to gather personal information about people who were not related to any criminal investigation.

In August 2010, the Jindal administration announced Painter had resigned his position.

Painter, however, said he was fired and alleged his career ended because he refused to grant a liquor license for an entertainment square outside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans.

Earlier in the week, Kimberly K. Smith, the FBI’s program manager for the National Crime Information Center in West Virginia, testified that law enforcement officers are not authorized to seek criminal history information about a person unless it is to be used for a criminal case.

On Friday, a Baton Rouge-area man, Samuel W. Divincenti Jr., testified that he had no idea why a printout of law enforcement database information and two photographs of him were found in Painter’s office after Painter left the ATC.

Defense attorney Al J. Robert Jr. suggested that a rifle Divincenti held in one photograph was an AK47 automatic assault weapon.

“No, it is not,” Divincenti replied.

Robert then asked whether Divincenti understood it is illegal for a felon to possess a firearm.

Divincenti replied that he is not a felon.

During questioning by Jones, Divincenti said his wife was engaged in a child custody dispute with her ex-husband in early 2008, when the database search was conducted through the ATC office. He said his wife eventually won sole custody.

The ex-husband’s mother was a neighbor of Painter’s mother, Divincenti said.

Jones showed Divincenti the second photograph, which was of him and several other people on a residential porch. Handguns could be seen in possession of some of the people, including Divincenti.

Divincenti noted that one of his friends in that photo is an agent with the U.S. Secret Service.

Jones wanted to know whether there was any reason for ATC to have his personal information.

“No,” Divincenti said. “Nothing in those photos is illegal.”

The trial is scheduled to resume Monday in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge James J. Brady.