COLUMBIA — A massive data breach of South Carolinians’ personal information. Angry politicians vow it never will happen again. State tax dollars pay a private company to protect victims’ credit.
It happened in October, when a hacker stole the personal information of 6.4 million taxpayers from the state Revenue Department. But it also happened six months earlier, in April 2012, when authorities charged Christopher Lykes with stealing the personal information of 228,000 state Medicaid beneficiaries.
You can hear Lykes’ name again, during the 2014 governor’s race, as Gov. Nikki Haley pushes back against criticism of her handling of the Revenue Department case.
Vincent Sheheen, the Democratic state senator who is challenging Republican Haley, has focused part of his campaign on blaming Haley for the Revenue hacking, which put the finances of nearly every South Carolinian at risk.
But the Camden Democrat has ties to Lykes, a former member of the Lexington County Democratic Party’s executive committee.
Six months before Lykes was arrested, Sheheen wrote a letter recommending Lykes for a promotion.
“I have known Mr. Lykes for some time now and have interacted with him in his role as a state employee,” Sheheen wrote to Health and Human Services director Tony Keck, a Haley appointee. “Mr. Lykes is hard working, responsive, and cares deeply about state government and South Carolina.”
Haley’s campaign says Sheheen’s letter shows he lacks credibility when criticizing Haley for the Revenue Department case.
“This says a lot about who Vince Sheheen is – someone who (is) quick to chase crises and point fingers, someone who recommends a thief for a state job because the applicant’s a well-connected Democrat, and someone who walks away from accepting any responsibility himself,” Haley campaign spokesman Rob Godfrey said. “It’s a shame but unsurprising.”
Sheheen’s campaign notes Lykes already was an employee at the state health agency when Sheheen wrote his letter of recommendation, meaning Sheheen did not get him a job there. Also, while Sheheen recommended Lykes for a promotion, the breach still happened at a Cabinet agency, Health and Human Services, that was under Haley’s direct control, like the Revenue Department.
“The DHHS theft, by (a) longtime employee of the department who spent the majority of his time under the Sanford and Haley administrations, occurred under Nikki Haley’s watch,” Andrew Whalen, Sheheen’s campaign manager, wrote in an email to The State newspaper. “The governor’s pathetic attempt to blame others for her failures in government is exactly why South Carolina needs new, accountable leadership.
Health and Human Services employment records show Lykes was hired by that agency on July 2, 1999, when Democrat Jim Hodges was governor. His job titles were “administrative specialist II” and “program coordinator 1.”
In October 2011, Lykes unsuccessfully sought a promotion to director of physicians, pharmacy and enhanced care services at the agency. State health director Keck received letters of recommendation for Lykes from other Democratic lawmakers as well, including state Sen. Nikki Setzler of Lexington and state Reps. Harry Ott of Calhoun, James Smith of Richland and Walt McLeod of Newberry. Ott resigned from the House in June to become state director of the federal Farm Service Agency. Setzler is now state Senate minority leader.
Smith, who also has been critical of Haley’s handling of the Revenue Department hacking, wrote to Keck, saying: “Chris will be a detailed steward of the taxpayer’s dollars and work to find innovative ways to curtail spending while continuing to provide excellent service to the needs of our citizens.”
Smith said the recommendation letters do not undermine Democrats’ criticisms of Haley over the hacking.
“We didn’t appoint the agency leadership over there. It’s her agency. She was the one asleep at the wheel,” Smith said. “She is working very hard to find others to blame. And, you know, she can do it all she wants between now and the election. She’s the governor. She’s responsible for the conduct of her agency.”
The charges against Lykes are scheduled for trial as early as October, according to the state Attorney General’s Office. Lykes is represented by Columbia attorney John Delgado. Attempts to each Delgado on Wednesday were unsuccessful.