The owner of a business in Mesa claims information released by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, containing information insinuating his business was complicit in an identity theft scheme, cost his business thousands of dollars.
The incident itself occurred on Nov. 20, when deputies arrested three employees of East Valley Disaster Services — a Mesa company that repairs homes after calamities like floods, fires and other incidents — for alleged identity theft. Per a press release from the sheriff’s office, a total of seven employees used false identification, and four of the victims of the identity theft were eventually identified.
EVDS owner Stuart MacLay said his company uses the E-Verify system to ensure the legitimacy of its employees. But the three employees the MCSO arrested were hired before the company started using the E-Verify system, and had worked for EVDS for between seven and 13 years.
“They were good friends,” he said.
MacLay also has no issue with the way the deputies conducted the search warrant at his business and the ensuing arrests, and Sheriff Joe Arpaio even credited MacLay for his cooperation with the investigation. MacLay, however, said the release itself cost his business tens of thousands of dollars.
Although the MCSO said the business did not knowingly hire employees with false identification, MacLay said the information sent out by the MCSO insinuates his business broke the law when hiring the arrested employees. Although the release does provide MacLay kudos for his participation in the situation, it does not specifically absolve EVDS of any wrongdoing.
Several news agencies — the Tribune among them — picked up the story and ran with it, and MacLay said the resulting media attention led two sizable clients to freeze their referrals for EVDS’ service. The timing couldn’t have been worse for the company, as that was the same weekend in which parts of the Valley received more than an inch of rain. Although MacLay couldn’t state exactly how much he lost on referrals from repairing flood damage, he said the estimated total loss was tens of thousands of dollars.
The detrimental press hurt his business in other ways as well via the loss of community projects and a ding to the EVDS’ reputation among the Hispanic community, and he said the ensuing efforts to repair the EVDS’ reputation has cost time and money.
“It seems that it was done simply for the sheriff to get publicity without regard to innocent lives that are damaged,” MacLay said in an email. “There are 80 families who are supported at least in part by EVDS, and all were put at risk due to the insinuation that we broke the law.”
MacLay also said the investigation, which took several months, included MCSO deputies monitoring his home, although MCSO spokesperson Lt. Brandon Jones said it was unlikely that occurred.
In terms of the release, Jones said it contained accurate information and was verified by case investigators prior to its dissemination to the public and media outlets.
“There was no intent to cause him any damage, if you will, or cost him any business,” he said.
The situation itself, Jones said, could have caused the public harm if one of EVDS’ clients or the client of any other business had his or her information taken by an employee.
“It’s one of the methods of getting the word out to the public,” he said.
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