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Florida law enforcement hires drug smuggler { August 2 2003 }

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FDLE hires former drug smuggler
The computer expert with strong ties to law enforcement will help the state track terrorists.
By LUCY MORGAN, Times Tallahassee Bureau Chief
St. Petersburg Times
published August 2, 2003

TALLAHASSEE - In an attempt to identify potential terrorists, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement is using the services of a former drug smuggler turned millionaire.

Hank Asher, 48, a computer technology expert who lives in a $3-million Boca Raton house, has founded several companies that retrieve huge amounts of electronic information about individuals.

He also has become a close friend to former FDLE director James T. "Tim" Moore.

"Hank Asher has done more to facilitate intelligence and information sharing for police in the country than anyone I've ever known. He's a patriot, a true friend," Moore told recently told the crowd at his FDLE retirement party.

Asher's initial company, DBT Online Inc., bought Asher out for $147-million in 1999 after the FBI and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration ended contracts with the company because of Asher's past drug smuggling ties.

Federal officials were concerned that any investigation could be compromised if Asher or others knew the target of the investigation.

While Asher never has been a witness in several drug cases after he was implicated in a Bahamas drug smuggling ring in the mid-1980s.

FDLE files say informants identified Asher as a person who provided police protection for smuggling operations in the Bahamas.

Asher was listed as a witness in drug trials from Gainesville to Chicago, and once was represented by famed attorney F. Lee Bailey.

Documents filed by prosecutors in Chicago said Asher was a pilot and former smuggler who lived on Great Harbour near Cistern Cay, a small island airport once used by smugglers.

After severing ties with DBT Online, Asher created other companies and grew even closer to law enforcement officials.

In 1999, he merged two companies into Seisint Inc. The new company supplies Accurint, a database that provides detailed information on individuals. Seisint also supplies specialized information to law enforcement agencies around the country.

FDLE began doing business with Asher's first company in 1993.

It is clear from 1993 records that FDLE officials knew they were dealing with a drug smuggler. Some officers questioned whether Asher's company could be trusted. No additional background check was conducted in 2001, when the relationship grew closer.

Seisint now has two contracts with the state government, both awarded without competitive bidding.

One of them, completed Friday by FDLE, will pay Seisint $1.6-million to help create an antiterrorism network. The other is with the state Department of Management Services, the agency that supplies administrative services for state government.

Asher also has made several significant contributions to political parties.

In the past five years he's donated more than $735,000 to Democratic and Republican parties and candidates. Most of his money has gone to Democrats: $505,000 in the past five years and $65,000 to U.S. Sen. Bob Graham's 2002 initiative campaign to re-establish the state Board of Regents.

"He's a good fella," said Moore, who retired Thursday from FDLE.

Asher was the only non-law enforcement official on the program at Moore's July 15 retirement ceremony in Tallahassee. That upset some law enforcement agents who are bombarding the governor and Cabinet with anonymous complaints.

But Moore and others have supported Asher.

Paul Cameron, president of Seisint, said he was impressed with Asher. Cameron, a former officer with Accenture, the accounting firm, joined Seisint three years ago and said he was unaware of Asher's past brush with the law.

"Hank is the founder of the company and has an impeccable reputation," Cameron said. "He's won awards for the things he does like help save lives and recover missing children. It's amazing how one individual has such a mind for using data."

Cameron said Asher was fishing this week and could not be reached for comment. Martha Barnett, a Tallahassee lawyer and former president of the American Bar Association, also is on Seisint's board. She praised Asher on Friday, calling him "a creative genius" in information technology.

Barnett said she had heard of allegations in the past but knows nothing about them.

"The truth is, it's not about Hank Asher any more," she said. "He's come up with a terribly important product."

Asher is wealthy, in part because of the forced sale of his 4.7-million shares in DBT in 1999.

He doesn't have to work, Cameron noted, but he remains on Seisint's board of directors and works with law enforcement agencies and the National Society for Exploited and Missing Children.

He has received awards for his efforts from the missing children's group and the Florida Police Chief's Association.

Moore dismissed questions about Asher's past. Moore once introduced Asher to Gov. Jeb Bush for a demonstration of his information services. A spokesman for the governor said Moore vouched for Asher's background.

Questions about Asher and his relationship to Moore and others at FDLE are being raised as Bush and members of the Cabinet interview applicants to replace Moore, who has had the job since 1987.

Daryl McLaughlin, interim director at FDLE and a finalist to succeed Moore, said Asher has not charged FDLE for many of his services and has allowed them to demonstrate it to other states and even Vice President Dick Cheney.

Late Friday, McLaughlin said he now believes FDLE's background on Asher and his company was not sufficient. He has asked FDLE officials in Miami to conduct a complete background.

"I have reviewed the review and you have told me stuff we didn't know," McLaughlin told the Times. "We should know more about a company we are doing business with."

Seisint, the company Asher founded, is now participating in an operation called Matrix, a multistate antiterrorism task force. The system will link about a dozen states so they can exchange information on terrorism suspects.

Officials at FDLE said Asher came to them after terrorists with Florida connections crashed airplanes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. They said Asher demonstrated how much information he could make available through his data company.

- Times researchers Caryn Baird and Kitty Bennett contributed to this report which included information from the files of the Chicago Tribune and Miami Herald.

13 states create terror database { September 24 2003 }
Concerns about citizen privacy
Connecting the dots after 911
Database conceived by former smuggler
Database raises privacy concerns { September 24 2003 }
Florida contracts with drug smuggler { August 2 2003 }
Florida law enforcement hires drug smuggler { August 2 2003 }
Hank asher connected 2000 florida voting { December 10 2000 }
Matrix database measured terrorism quotient
Matrix system endanger privacy
New york wisconsin opt out of anti crime database
Police database called intrusive by rights group
Privacy advocates fear matrix { September 24 2003 }
State law enforcement contractor linked drugs { August 3 2003 }
States build anti terror database
Tennessee officials applied to matrix

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