Updated at 10:14 p.m.
By Eric Roper and Randy Furst
Minneapolis' housing inspections director and another regulatory employee are facing criminal charges of misconduct after authorities say they misused a state database of drivers licenses and vehicle registrations.
Director of Housing Inspections Tom Deegan, a 37-year city employee, was charged with a gross misdemeanor of public employee misconduct after an audit revealed he had accessed the data without an official business purpose dating back to 2005. Another employee, Michael Karney, has also been charged, according to a letter the city's regulatory chief sent to city employees.
Deegan and Karney are both on administrative leave from their positions, a city spokesman said.
“Mr. Deegan categorically denies doing anything wrong,” Paul Engh, Deegan’s attorney, said Tuesday. “Over 40 city employees have done the same thing and have not been charged.”
Engh said Deegan was checking on the records of family members who are "aged and vulnerable." He added that Deegan will plead not guilty at his first court appearance.
The probe was spurred by allegations that regulatory employees in the city were misusing Driver and Vehicle Services (DVS) records.
It's not the first time a city employee has landed in hot water related to DVS records. The city placed a police sergeant on leave last year following similar charges, though they were later dismissed.
Charging documents, filed Friday, do not elaborate on why Deegan accessed the records. It says the access occurred in 2009, 2010 and 2011, but extends back to 2005.
Deegan, 60, of St. Anthony, did not return a message seeking comment Tuesday morning. His first court appearance is slated for Oct. 11.
The criminal complaint states that the investigation into Deegan was the "result of an allegation of potential misuse of Department of Vehicle Services (DVS) access by Minneapolis Regulatory Services employees." That department's former director, Gregory Stubbs, recently departed the city after less than a year in the job. It's unclear if it is related to the Deegan incident.
The interim director of regulatory services, Jay Stroebel, referred comment to a city spokesman. Stroebel sent a message to department employees on Friday informing them of the charges.
Laura Pietan, St. Paul deputy city attorney, said her office had been asked to review the case by the Minneapolis City Attorney’s office so as to avoid a conflict of interest, a common practice. She said that her office reviewed the investigative information and determined that charges should be filed.
Deegan faces a gross misdemeanor, which carries up to one year incarceration in the Hennepin County Workhouse and up to a $3,000 fine, she said.
Deegan came to the door of his home in St. Anthony, Tuesday, but declined comment, referring questions to Engh.
The city coordinator, Paul Aasen, said the charges contain "serious allegations" and it is the city's responsibility to "hold people accountable" if they act unethically or unprofessionally.
"As an employer, the last thing you ever want to hear is that someone on your staff may have done something inappropriate or illegal," Aasen said in a statement. "These charges will work their way through the courts system, and at the same time, we will be evaluating the City’s next steps."
The state has grappled in recent years with employees misusing the DVS website, which contains driving records, photos, addresses and phone numbers. A spokesman for the department of public safety said last year that they 56 people have been banned for misusing the data.