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Personal Files From Erie County Social Services Found Discarded

The Erie County Comptroller's office says an audit has found copies of residents confidential personal information left in open areas that are accessible to the public.

Some the information in the records includes birth certificates, social security cards, and medical records.

The comptroller says the records were found during an ongoing audit of the Department of Social Services, which began after tips from whistle-blowers who said the department was re-certifying people seeking benefits without checking to see if that person was qualified.

Auditors were denied a chance to see the records, but found them in the open where anyone could find the sensitive information.

"Social Services claimed these records were so sensitive and super-secret, that our auditors couldn't look at them," says Stefan Mychajliw, Erie County Comptroller.  "They were leaving them open, unshredded, in open boxes, in the basement of the Rath Building and right at the loading dock."

The full audit of the Department of Social Services is not finished yet, but should be soon.

"As best as we can tell, this has been going on for many years, perhaps during the Collins or even the Giambra Administrations," said Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz. "But it doesn't justify what our social service department did...confidential information cannot be put in the garbage or in unsecured recycling totes."

"I am not happy about this, Poloncarz continued. "It shouldn't happen in today's day and age. We have the ability to ensure that these documents be kept secure, but a number of individuals in county government didn't follow the rules...and if they're still not following the rules after being warned, they should be fired."

Erie County Legislator Lynne Dixon (I) has called a press conference for Tuesday morning, at which time she is expected to request for a Legislative hearing to fully examine the issue.

The Erie County Executive's spokesperson, Peter Anderson, emailed this response to 2 On Your Side:

"The Comptroller failed to say anything about this potential issue when he found out about it more than a month ago, perpetuating the issue and and also violating auditing standards (possibly risking his staff's certification) by then releasing details about an ongoing audit before even telling the administration. While he, for reasons known only to him, chose to do nothing about this, as soon as the administration became aware of this issue on April 1, immediate steps were taken to correct it."

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