08/10/06 — JAS files suit over Duplin contract question

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JAS files suit over Duplin contract question

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on August 10, 2006 1:51 PM

KENANSVILLE -- Johnston Ambulance Service has filed a lawsuit against Duplin County and two former county employees for allegedly stealing information from its computer system.

Former Emergency Services Director Curtis Brock and a former EMS employee, Barbara Coman, were charged with allegedly breaking into the company's computer system following an investigation by the SBI.

Johnston Ambulance Service has a contract with the county to provide non-emergency transportation for patients in the county. But Duplin officials have been considering ways to improve and streamline the delivery of rescue services in the county, and county commissioners at one point expressed interest in having county-owned ambulances take over that service as a way to increase revenue.

Brock allegedly convinced Coman, a former Johnston Ambulance employee, to help him obtain information about Johnston's list of clients, patient information and calls.

The lawsuit claims that some members of the Duplin County Board of Commissioners were aware of Brock's actions.

Investigators said Dr. Thomas Hunter, the owner of another ambulance carrier, Coastline Care, recorded conversations between Brock and Duplin County Commissioner Larry Howard discussing the issue. Howard was not charged with any wrongdoing.

"JAS suffers irreparable harm" and damage to its ability to compete in the business, the lawsuit claims. The company is seeking damages in excess of $10,000 and wants the court to prohibit Duplin County from competing against it for non-emergency transportation service in the county.

The company's lawyer, Charles Ellis of Greenville, has asked for a jury trial, and already has begun taking depositions.

The lawsuit says Coman used her former company password to access the computer records.

According to the lawsuit, "Brock entered the room while Coman was accessing the information and inquired as to what the information was and asked her to access all such information for the last quarter of 2005 and to print out the information. Another employee of Duplin County entered the room and told them what they were doing was illegal and that they would 'get into trouble.' However, Brock and Coman disregarded this warning and continued to access the information."

The information allegedly included customer lists and call lists with dates, times and locations of calls and patient information protected by the Health Portability and Accountability Act.

The complaint says Johnston Ambulance Service officials believe Brock hired Ms. Coman to help the county compete with the company.

The complaint alleges that Brock took the information gleaned from the computer files to other employees "and/or agents of Duplin County, including but not limited to members of the Duplin County Board of Commissioners."

The lawsuit also claims that the company's computer system has been compromised and remains under threat of continued misappropriation and use of its trade secrets by the county.