PVA candidate used data service to snoop on her opponent, complaint charges

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Colleen Younger, the Democratic nominee for Jefferson County Property Valuation Administrator, improperly used her position as the PVA's chief of staff to access a non-public data service for "opposition research" on her Republican opponent in the Nov. 6 election, according to a complaint by a longtime employee of the office. 

In the complaint dated Oct. 4, the PVA's chief financial officer Harold Thomas claims that Younger, while on state time in July, used the office's third-party data service to look up information about her opponent, John May, and others who share his last name.

The database, called Accurint, includes potential access to Social Security numbers, driver's license numbers, address histories, familial relationships and criminal records, among other information, according to the website for Accurint's provider, Lexis Nexis, and the PVA's contract for use of the data, which Thomas attached to his complaint.

Younger declined to answer questions about the allegations on Friday, but in an email, she denied that she had misused office resources.

"I have drawn extremely clear boundaries in this office with regard to my campaign for PVA," she said. "Every employee here knows it. I have never used anything in the PVA office for political purposes."

Younger's boss, Jefferson County PVA Tony Lindauer, defended Younger's use of the database in emailed responses on Friday.

Lindauer said it was for a legitimate purpose related to the PVA's ongoing dispute with Republican Gov. Matt Bevin over the tax value of Bevin's home in Anchorage.

Lindauer said Mayor Greg Fischer's office had asked for the PVA's assistance in investigating a potential connection between May -- who performed an appraisal for Bevin last year – and one of the board members who might hear Bevin's appeal of his home's value last summer.

The primary job of the PVA office is to set the tax value of real estate in the county. The office's assessments of homes and other properties are a key factor in the tax bills that owners are mailed at the end of each year.

As for the paid database, the PVA normally uses it to locate property owners whose tax bills are returned undelivered, Thomas says in the complaint. The database is separate from the PVA's own subscription service providing public information on Jefferson County properties.

As part of his complaint, Thomas also provided what he says is a log of Younger's search history on July 10, the day he says that she requested credentials for the service.

In addition to searches on people named May, the log shows Younger's account performed searches on a few other Louisville residents that Lindauer was unable to explain.

Lindauer, a Democrat who is retiring from the office after 12 years, largely did not dispute the facts of Thomas' complaint in a series of emailed responses on Friday.

Lindauer said Younger was using the database at his request – and at the request of Mayor Greg Fischer's office – to find out whether Laurence May, a member of the tax appeals board, was related to John May, the Republican candidate and appraiser hired by Bevin.

But Thomas raised questions about Lindauer's account. Thomas told WDRB that Lindauer claimed not to have known of Younger's searches on the database when Thomas first told Lindauer about it in late July.

"He was surprised to even see the stuff I had," Thomas said. "He didn’t know she was looking on Accurint."

Bevin has feuded with Lindauer's office over the tax value of a large home he owns on 10 acres in Anchorage, and Bevin's side has relied on May's 2017 appraisal in appealing the PVA's assessment.

While Fischer appoints the board members who hear appeals, his office is not typically involved in property tax disputes.

Lindauer said the request for "assistance" with investigating the potential board member conflict came from Althea Jackson, the mayor's director of board and commissions.

Jean Porter, a spokeswoman for Fischer, a Democrat, said by email: "We consulted with the PVA and the County Attorney’s office in an effort to avoid any conflicts of interest." She did not elaborate.

It's unclear whether Thomas' complaint about Younger is being investigated and by which arm of state government.

WDRB obtained the complaint through a public records request of the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance. The registry told Thomas in a letter dated Oct. 12 that his allegations were best handled by the Executive Branch Ethics Commission.

The ethics commission, by state law, does not confirm the receipt of complaints or whether investigations are underway, and Thomas declined to comment on whether he has had any contact with the commission.

Thomas claims in the complaint that in July, Younger openly declared her intention to look into her opponent for political reasons. After Thomas provided Younger with credentials for the data service, "she went into her office to do what she said was, and I quote 'opposition research,'" Thomas wrote.

Attached to the complaint is what Thomas describes as a log of Younger's search activity on the portal. The log shows an "advanced person search" for "John T May," which matches the name, including middle initial, of her opponent in the election.

It also includes a search on the address of what May said is the home of his father – also named John May – and three others with the last name of May.

Lindauer said by email Friday that his office was trying to confirm whether Laurence May, a retired Kindred Healthcare executive, was the brother of John May. Laurence May was one of the names searched by Younger, according the log.

John May and Laurence May denied any relation in interviews with WDRB News.

The log also shows searches for "Dorothy S. May" and "Jane May." Laurence May said in a phone interview Friday that they are his mother and wife, respectively.

In any event, Laurence May didn't end up hearing Bevin's tax appeal, he said, as the local board splits into small groups and the governor's appeal was not assigned to his group.

The log shows searches on other names that have no apparent connection to the alleged investigation into May's familial relationships.

It shows that Younger searched for herself, the address of her home in Germantown – which she does not own, according to public records – and other names including "Carl Pollard" and "Michael Conliffe."

Carl Pollard is a retired Humana Inc. executive and former Churchill Downs Inc. chairman, and a recent major donor to the University of Louisville. Michael Conliffe matches the name of a former Jefferson County Attorney in the 1990s. Neither could be reached on Friday.

Asked about those searches, Lindauer said: "There are many searches done daily in our office. We are a data based agency with a heavy load of data searches daily. I cannot address every single one."

In an interview, Thomas said he has worked as the PVA office's chief financial official since 1998.

He said he first raised issues about Younger's use of the database with Lindauer in late July and that he decided to file the complaint with state officials after Lindauer informed him that he saw nothing wrong with Younger's activity.

Thomas said that, less than a week after he informed Lindauer of the issue, Lindauer removed Thomas as the administrator of the Accurint data service.

Lindauer confirmed that, saying he reassigned oversight of the database to the office's technology staff, "which is really where it should have been all along." Lindauer added that he made the change "to remove any potential political bias."

Thomas said he plans to vote for May in the election, but that his support for the candidate is limited to a sign in his yard.

In an email Friday, Younger called Thomas' complaint "political retaliation from a supporter of John May."

Thomas said he filed the complaint because he believes Younger misused state resources while on state time.

"I just really didn't think it was fair play. John May has no access to any information on Colleen Younger like this," he said.

May, for his part, said the allegations in Thomas' complaint amount to "an appalling abuse of state resources."

"A government employee is on state time using a database to search her opponent for personal and private reasons – not only me as the declared candidate, but my family and my relatives and other people. Who knows the extent and the breadth of the investigation they're doing?" he said.

Reach reporter Chris Otts at 502-585-0822, cotts@wdrb.com , on Twitter or on Facebook . Copyright 2018 WDRB News. All rights reserved.

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Chris Otts reports for WDRB.com about business and economic topics, higher education and local / state government. He joined WDRB News in 2013 after seven years with The Courier-Journal. Got a tip? Chris is at 502-585-0822 and cotts@wdrb.com.