ABQ Journal North
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
Cops Investigating Use of LANL Equipment
By Ginger McGuire
Journal Staff Writer
LOS ALAMOS— A contract employee at Los Alamos National Laboratory has
been questioned by police for allegedly embezzling lab property after
admitting she took a monitor and desktop computer home, allowing her husband
and daughter to use the equipment.
Los Alamos police detective Doug Johnson said there is "an active
criminal investigation in cooperation with lab security ... with possible
embezzlement of lab property," though no charges have been filed.
Johnson said Los Alamos police were contacted by lab security personnel
who said Stephanie Romero Maestas, 32, had allegedly obtained LANL property—
a 37-inch monitor and a Dell desktop computer— and converted the equipment
to her own use.
Lab spokesman Kevin Roark said the computer did not contain any
The case was referred to Los Alamos police because the lab was concerned
about any possible "unauthorized or improper use of governmental property,"
Roark said. There is still an ongoing internal inquiry into the matter, he
"At this time, based on our internal inquiry, it appears she did have
permission to use the computer," Roark said.
Johnson said police are still unclear about whether Maestas had
permission to use the computer and whether she had permission to use the
equipment at home. He said it is also unclear how she obtained the computer,
which was assigned to another lab employee who has not been reached for
"She admitted to taking (the desktop computer) home and converting it to
her own use," Johnson said.
Maestas returned a laptop computer, upon which Johnson said she has
"previous permission to do work from home," and that it was assigned to her
for use. He said it is unclear whether she still has permission to use the
laptop outside of LANL property.
Maestas, a secretary, is a contract employee at the lab, Johnson said.
The alleged incident was discovered after one of Maestas' supervisors
saw a $943 charge for a 37-inch monitor in a stewardship report which she
said she had not previously authorized, Johnson said.
Further investigation showed Maestas had requested a monitor through the
proper supply process to use with the desktop computer, though her request
was rejected because the monitor "was unsuitable due to security
constraints," according to the investigation report.
Contrary to lab policies, Maestas allegedly used her supervisor's
personal identification code, or "Z number," to order the monitor, the
report states. Johnson said contract employees are not authorized to submit
requests that exceed $500.
"We don't have any indication that there was anything subterfuge— that
anybody used deceit— in the procurement process," Roark said in response to
the allegation that Maestas used the code without permission.
The desktop computer was last accounted for on June 3 during a
wall-to-wall inventory, Johnson said. Maestas took the computer home some
time after the last inventory, he said.
During the initial investigation, Johnson said a "supervisor then
compromised the investigation by informing (Maestas) that she was under
internal investigation and that she should return any LANL property that she
had taken home."
She returned her laptop, the monitor and desktop. Johnson said the
desktop was then discovered in the lab's salvage system— where equipment no
longer needed or that is considered surplus is categorized, Roark said.
Johnson said a work request attached to the computer indicated that it
was damaged or worn beyond repair, though technicians were able to determine
that this was not true. He said no one knows how the sticker got on the
"How in the world did this computer assigned to someone else get turned
in to be destructed, and why?" he said.
Roark said salvage doesn't necessarily mean the equipment will be
destroyed. Items in salvage are thrown away if found unusable, while some
items are sold at auction or used by other organizations such as schools. He
does not know how the computer Maestas had in her possession ended up in
The case has been forwarded to the District Attorney's office for review
and for possible prosecution, police said.