ST. LOUIS -- More than 1,800 personnel records for U.S. veterans were destroyed or misfiled by two student employees of the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis County, federal criminal court documents show.
One of the student employees, Lonnie Halkmon, 28, was sentenced Thursday to two years of probation and ordered to perform 40 hours of community service. The other, Stanley Engram, 21, is scheduled to be sentenced Feb. 7. Both pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of destruction of government records and faced probation to six months in prison under federal sentencing guidelines.
Engram's guilty plea says that 241 military records were found in the woods near the center on July 3, 2012, with 300 names and Social Security numbers visible on the documents.
The records were traced to Engram, who admitted disposing of the records found in the woods, “abandoning” files in the center and throwing them away at home. In all, he admitted destroying or purposely misfiling more than 1,000 records.
Halkmon's plea says that after an “incident,” the center conducted an audit of all records assigned to employees in 2011 and 2012.
From Dec. 7, 2011 to March 28, 2012, over 1,200 files were assigned to Halkmon, and 850 were reported missing.
The audit covered 41 employees and Halkmon had the highest error rate. While most employees had an error rate of 3 percent, four other employees had disproportionate error rates, according to a state appellate court ruling.
It's not clear the total number of files that are missing and many may never be located due to the huge volume of records at the center.
Halkmon had worked at the center since 2005 and resigned rather than being terminated. The other four employees were offered the same deal.
Some employees seeking to earn an incentive bonus were intentionally misfiling, or “stashing,” records to finish more quickly, state court files show. Although Halkmon denied stashing files and said he'd lacked proper training, a tribunal handling Halkmon's appeal of the rejection of his unemployment benefits said his claims were not credible.
In court Thursday, Halkmon's public defender Lucille Liggett said that he was "sincerely remorseful" for his actions, and stressed that none of Halkmon's records were destroyed or removed from the center. Halkmon did not make a statement, and Liggett declined to comment on the case after Thursday's hearing.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Nanette Baker said that while she didn't know why Halkmon had misfiled the records, she said she hoped he "understood the seriousness" of the situation and the potential impact on veterans' lives.
Engram's lawyer and federal officials could not be immediately reached for comment Thursday.
The National Personnel Records Center, long housed in a building in Overland, Mo., moved to a new building on Dunn Road, just east of Highway 367, in 2011. The $115 million center houses 100 million individual files dating from the 1800s in 4.2 million cardboard cartons. About 57 million of the files are for military personnel.
In 1973, a fire destroyed or damaged the files of about 22 million Army veterans from 1912 to 1959 and Air Force veterans from 1947 to 1963.