Lawyer says client misunderstood rules for off-site gear.
A former Hennepin County District Court employee is accused of stealing more than $93,000 in computer equipment from his workplace and using some of it for the school attended by his son.
Saleem Abdul Ghani, 42, of Maple Grove faces four counts of felony theft over $5,000 in connection with the disappearance of 112 computer parts, some of which were later connected to possible use for Al-Amal School in Fridley. Most of the equipment was later returned. His attorney claims the charges stem from a misunderstanding about what products could be taken off site.
According to charges, an audit found significant differences in how much computer equipment was bought and how much was in use at the District Court, where Ghani was an IT worker. For instance, only half of the memory ordered had actually been installed in the court's servers.
The charges say he discouraged the audit and tried to make it seem like he kept some of the equipment under his desk for testing in a box he called "Saleem's Secret Stash." In reality, the charges say, security video caught him putting that box under his desk after concerns were raised about missing equipment.
Ghani was placed on administrative leave on Aug. 30 after the "Secret Stash" box, containing more than $32,000 worth of equipment, was found. Later that day, he returned more than $40,000 in equipment. On Nov. 8, authorities seized an additional $20,000 in equipment from his home.
Some of the files discovered on the hard drive pertained to Al-Amal School and some of the networks on the equipment were named after the school. It also appeared components had been "wiped" or erased before they were returned. Ghani's son attends Al-Amal School, and his sister works in the IT department there.
Ghani's attorney, Murad Mohammad, pointed out that none of the items was recovered from the school. He said many business professionals have a lot of latitude in how they test equipment, which means taking it off site.
"Mr. Ghani never had any intent to deprive Hennepin County of its property and in fact he has no gain from the actions he is alleged to have taken," he said. "He simply did not intend to steal any of these items."
Charges say that District Court policy says computer components should be kept at the office when they are not being used.
Hennepin County Court Administrator Mark Thompson said thefts occasionally occur within District Court, which justifies department audits.
"This appears to be an instance where the money taxpayers pay to fund the courts is well-guarded and at this point our audit process caught it," he said.
Abby Simons • 612-673-4921