DENVER - Denver's Public Works Department fired a senior accountant accused of viewing child pornography at work, but there is no indication the matter was ever referred to law enforcement.
After a co-worker alleged she saw him viewing "pornography involving pre-pubescent girls," the city reviewed the Internet usage of the accountant, Stephen Zelarney, conducted on his work computer in the Wellington E. Webb Municipal Office Building during the morning of March 15, 2013.
That report found the sites he visited included: "stories of rape 14 times, prisoner rape, survivor stories viewed 20 times, teenage rape viewed 22 times, pictures of 12-year-old girls viewed six times (and) teenage rape stories viewed 16 times."
A further probe of his work computer use showed "a history of similar sites," including Asian gang-rape pornography sites "going back for more than a year," Zelarney’s April 26, 2013, dismissal letter states. Zelarney denies the claim.
Public Works officials declined to be interviewed about their handling of the matter. They also declined to further clarify Zelarney's workplace Internet use, saying they believed they could be sued for publicly discussing an employee’s termination. City officials released his termination letter in response to a Colorado Open Records Act request.
"The city and county of Denver has policies in place which dictate the acceptable use of its information technology devices by employees," said Nancy Kuhn, a spokeswoman for public works, in a prepared statement. "Mr. Zelarney violated those policies, and the city took appropriate action by terminating his employment."
Neither the Denver Police Department nor Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey's office has any record of city officials alerting them of allegations that Zelarney was viewing "pornography involving prepubescent girls." Jeff Dorschner, an official with the U.S. Attorney’s office, would not comment, but our partners at The Denver Post could find no record of a federal investigation into the matter.
The National Conference of State Legislatures lists 10 states as requiring computer technicians or information technology workers to report child pornography if they encounter it in their work, but Colorado is not one of the states listed as having such a reporting requirement.
Zelarney still could be prosecuted, either under federal or state child protection laws, if it was found that he was in violation of those laws.
Zelarney, 57, in an interview with The Denver Post, confirmed that his superiors never alerted law enforcement authorities of his Internet viewing, but he denied that he was looking at pornography at work.
"I guess it depends on how you define that," Zelarney said, adding that he did not contest the allegations because he was old enough to retire and receive a pension and did not want a lengthy legal fight.
As to whether he was viewing pornography of "prepubescent girls," Zelarney said his superiors mistakenly confused the sites he was researching in his effort to help his girlfriend’s daughter audition in the Miss Colorado Pageant.
But when they fired Zelarney, his superiors stated in the dismissal letter that they reviewed that defense and found it without merit. They found the websites he frequented during the time reviewed had nothing to do with a beauty pageant.
They further confirmed that Zelarney's computer was not experiencing pop-up spam, and that he deliberately viewed the websites and was not hitting on those sites randomly.
Further, the dismissal letter states that Zelarney had a history of being rebuked for improper Internet use. Officials confronted him about the issue in 2012, and his Internet usage was curtailed temporarily, the dismissal letter states.
"The fact that you continued to view these sites in the worksite is not only troubling, but has become threatening to the individual who viewed these sites at your work station," states the dismissal letter from Don Andriese, the controller for public works.
Zelarney was hired to work in the accounting division of public works in 1990. His duties included accounting work and analyzing financial statements, statistical reports and budget documents. He had been disciplined in 2011 for another unspecified issue, which prompted him to agree to have his pay reduced at that time, according to the dismissal letter.
The co-worker who turned him in told city human resources officials said that Zelarney's Internet use had become so pervasive that she had to cover his work deficiencies related to outstanding billings and closing out grants. She said she also found Zelarney to be a threat because of the type of Internet sites he viewed in the workplace.