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Erie County comptroller relinquishes seized tote

A tote containing confidential records seized by the Erie County Comptroller’s Office in March is back in the possession of the Department of Social Services.

County Attorney Michael Siragusa said an agreement for the return of the tote was signed Thursday by Comptroller Stefan I. Mychajliw and County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz.

The tote contains copies of roughly 1,700 sensitive documents – including birth certificates, personal medical records and tax returns – that were submitted to the Social Services Department by residents seeking temporary assistance and Medicaid benefits from the county.

“I personally picked them up from the Comptroller’s Office and delivered them to the Department of Social Services,” said Siragusa, who worked out the agreement with Mychajliw.

The tote was seized in March by Deputy Comptroller Teresa M. Fraas from a Department of Social Services storage area in the subbasement of the Rath County Office Building.

At the time, the Comptroller’s Office was conducting an audit into how social services workers went about recertifying participants in the county’s Medicaid and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families programs.

Mychajliw has said the unlocked tote was taken from an unsecured area of the subbasement, while the administration insists the tote was in a secured storage of the basement and seized under false pretenses by Fraas.

Mychajliw, who earlier this week released a six-page audit of Social Services’ protocols for recertifying residents for benefits, confirmed Thursday that his office had relinquished the tote.

“Absolutely. We’re done, over. The report is in, and we’re moving on,” he said.

The Comptroller’s Office and the administration had been squabbling for weeks over who had a right to possess the documents and the consequences of not returning them to the Department of Social Services.

The administration has said the county faced the prospect of millions of dollars in federal fines if the documents were not returned to the department in a timely manner.

Mychajliw had refused to turn over the records after he publicly revealed in late May that Social Services workers had been improperly disposing of reams of sensitive documents in unlocked totes and leaving them unsecured at the curb for pickup.

Administration officials, who said they discovered the breach in early April, have since announced that new safeguards have been put in place to ensure that confidential documents are secured in locked totes.