- The nation's top official overseeing the federal court system says the lack of supervision of accused murderer David Renz has prompted the dismissal and demotion of U.S. probation officers
In addition, the federal government has reorganized the Syracuse probation office's electronic monitoring unit, retrained its staff and brought in federal consultants from outside of Central New York to advise the office.
The revelations from Judge Thomas F. Hogan, director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts in Washington, D.C., were contained in a letter hand-delivered Monday to U.S. Rep. Dan Maffei.
The letter offered the first confirmation from federal officials that employees have been held accountable for the handling of the Renz case in the Syracuse-based U.S. Probation Office for the Northern District of New York.
The Post-Standard reported earlier this month that Steven Acquilano, the probation officer responsible for monitoring Renz according to a court record, stopped working for the office in May.
Acquilano's supervisor, Lori Albright, has not commented about what happened to Acquilano. Chief Probation Officer Matthew Brown in Syracuse also has refused to say whether Acquilano was still employed by the agency. The office has advertised since May 14 to fill at least one open position in its Syracuse supervision unit
Hogan said in his letter that nothing could be done to "diminish the severity of the crimes attributed to David Renz or excuse the deficiencies in supervision of his case." He said it is clear from his office's review to date that "Renz was not supervised in a manner typical of federal probation and pretrial services practices."
Maffei wrote to Hogan and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on May 14, asking them to investigate the federal probation office in Syracuse, and hold accountable those responsible for monitoring Renz.
Maffei wanted to know why the office did not inspect Renz's ankle bracelet despite 46 alerts indicating the equipment had been tampered with while he was awaiting trial on federal child pornography charges.
The Syracuse probation office routinely ignored alerts shorter than 5 minutes that warned of tampering with an ankle monitor. It was the only office nationwide to have such a policy.
In his letter to Maffei, Hogan said the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts is in the process of a nationwide review of "operations of probation and pretrial services offices with respect to (electronic) monitoring."
Hogan, in his letter, told Maffei that he had no legislation to recommend at this point in the national policy review. But he said Maffei could help by fighting to restore money the federal court system lost through the federal sequester budget cuts and other funding cutbacks.
"Funding for salaries and operations in the probation and pretrial services system has been reduced 14 percent this fiscal year, and resources for (electronic) monitoring, mental health and substance abuse treatment have been cut 20 percent," Hogan wrote.
He added that 25 percent of the positions are unfilled in probation and pretrial services offices across the nation.
Syracuse probation officials have denied that personnel shortages played any role in the Renz case. In a March email about staffing, Brown said his office hadn't experienced the same downsizing and furloughs as other U.S. Probation Offices around the country.
Maffei, after receiving Hogan's letter, spoke on the House floor Monday night to ask for the restoration of funding for the federal court system.