Local News

Cabinet Was Surplus, Files Inside Were Personal

Posted February 14, 2007 7:06 p.m. EST
Updated February 14, 2007 7:07 p.m. EST

— A man looking for a bargain at the state surplus store in Raleigh ended up getting more than he bargained for—information that he didn’t want but that the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill wanted back.

Chris McCulloch of Ridgeway, Va., drilled open a filing cabinet that was locked when he bought it. Inside were files, and inside the files were records of former UNC grad students and applicants: names, addresses, grade point averages and Social Security numbers.

The discovery has the university and surplus store are looking to change their policies.

“It kinda freaked me out. It was sorta scary, you know, all the stuff that we found in there,” McCulloch said Wednesday.

McCullouch contacted the surplus store, and a staff member drove to Virginia the next day, gathered the files, and thanked McCulloch for calling. The incident leaves some unanswered questions, however.

“Our policy is that when the items get here, they should have been cleared out. They are surplus items,” said Mickey E. Sauls, director of the state’s Division of Surplus Property.

UNC has “accepted the total responsibility for what has happened,” Sauls said.

“I don't know what you can say except we're profoundly sorry and upset that it happened,” said Lee McLean, an associate dean of the UNC School of Medicine.

The school sent letters to all 88 people whose files were in the cabinet. And from now on, the university will double check items sent to Surplus.

Offices getting rid of file cabinets will “sign off and certify that the drawers are empty,” McLean said. “It won’t happen again.”

The surplus store has altered its policy, too.

“We're not gonna sell anyting that's locked, and in the future we're telling the agencies, ‘Don't send it to us locked,’” Sauls said.

McCulloch was happy to hear of the changes.

“I'm glad something came out of it, you know, something good anyway,” he said

To reward his good deed, UNC sent McCulloch a thank you letter and a T-shirt.