Palm Beach Post News
State fish agency chief quits over porn surfing
By Willie Howard, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 26, 2000
The director of the agency that makes rules to protect Florida's saltwater fish was forced to resign Monday following an internal investigation that
showed he surfed pornographic Web sites from his office computer.
Russell Nelson, 52, who has a Ph.D. in biology, improperly used his state computer to access about 70 pornographic Web sites, according to an
investigation by Jim Knight, inspector general of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Nelson, who earned $88,989 a year as director of the commission's year-old Division of Marine Fisheries, admitted visiting some of the sites from his office.
"I am disappointed that 14 years of service to the state of Florida doesn't balance out a few hours of stupid indiscretion," Nelson told the Tallahassee Democrat on Monday. He was not available for comment Tuesday.
The wide-ranging probe, the subject of two separate state investigations, has indicated that other employees in Nelson's office also had surfed
pornographic sites and made bids on eBay and visited stock-trading Web sites.
"This was an extremely difficult decision but one that brings to a close a painful episode in the administration of this very young agency," FWC
Executive Director Allan Egbert said in a statement. "Dr. Nelson's contributions to the management of Florida's marine resources have always
been of the highest caliber, but it is in the best interest of preserving public confidence in this agency that we sever his association with the Fish
and Wildlife Conservation Commission."
Nelson had been director of the former Marine Fisheries Commission since 1987 and a state fisheries biologist before then. The probe of Nelson's Internet use began in March after the Florida Department of Law Enforcement began investigating the Feb. 22 distribution, by e-mail attachment, of more than 100 pornographic photographs to some 300 FWC employees. The e-mail was purportedly from Nelson to an employee of his division. When the FDLE inspected Nelson's hard drive, they discovered he had been visiting pornographic sites.
A separate FDLE investigation continues into allegations by Port St. Joe attorney Patrick Floyd that parts of computer files and e-mail messages
related to tarp-net fishing were deleted from Marine Fisheries Division computers after Floyd filed a public records request on behalf of commercial fishermen.
The fishermen were upset by the FWC's February decision to discontinue an experimental program that allowed limited use of tarps attached to
legal-sized nets to catch bait fish. The tarp-net program ended July 1.
The FWC has denied that any of its records were improperly erased.
Floyd obtained copies of the hard drives of several FWC employees in April and hired consultant Anton Hajducek Jr. to analyze them. Hajducek said in a sworn statement that Nelson and other employees of his office had surfed pornographic Web sites, made bids on eBay and visited stock-trading Web sites.
Ken Haddad, director of the Florida Marine Research Institute for the past seven years, has been named interim director of the Division of Marine Fisheries.