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Ex-Kansas commerce chief linked to data transfer

June 02, 2019 - 1:20 pm

A former state commerce secretary whose conduct is being reviewed by the Kansas Bureau of Investigation participated in transferring state data to a private company with ties to him while in office, according to a newspaper report.

The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that it used state documents and interviews to link ex-Secretary Antonio Soave to the transfer of state files containing contact, personnel and financial data on more than 10,000 businesses. Soave served as the Department of Commerce's top administrator from December 2015 until June 2017 under Republican Gov. Sam Brownback.

The data went to Capistrano Global Advisory Services, an Overland Park firm that advises businesses about international commerce, the newspaper said. Soave was its CEO before and after serving as commerce secretary.

Brownback fired Soave over questions about agency contracts for consulting and marketing services, with The Kansas City Star later reporting that at least nine Soave friends or business associates received such contracts. The KBI opened an investigation of Soave's activities at the department in 2018, and KBI spokeswoman Melissa Underwood told The Associated Press last week that it is ongoing.

Soave did not respond to a Facebook message seeking comment; two home telephone listings for him were disconnected, and there was no answer at the number for Capistrano Global Advisory Services. Soave said previously that he was "very careful to comply with all existing policies" at the department.

The Capital-Journal said that emails and other documents showed that Soave asked Department of Commerce employees to extract information about businesses from agency computers. The newspaper said it obtained the documents recently through an open records request — after being told by the department in 2017 that they didn't exist or couldn't be found.

Spreadsheets, reports and lists were forwarded to Soave's special assistant in the department, who then emailed files to the business development director at Capistrano Global, who later became a state contractor, the newspaper said. The Capital-Journal said it would have been difficult and expensive for outsiders to replicate the same data.

Soave's Linked-in profile listed him as the company's CEO from January 1989 until January 2016 and again since July 2017.

Jessica Farrell, a former Department of Commerce information technology administrator, said she pushed back against Soave's requests about the agency's data on businesses. Farrell said state employees are trained not to release state data to vendors or contractors without specific instructions in a contract or formal agreement.

"It appears Soave and his associates gained an unfair advantage through information released to private parties," said state Rep. John Carmichael, a Wichita Democrat and an attorney. "That property was intellectual property of the state of Kansas."

In a May 2016 email to Soave, Michael Miravalle, his special assistant at the department, said there was consternation within the agency with Soave having access to data about businesses.

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