April 30, 1997

Florida man convicted in largest AIDS info leak

CLEARWATER, Fla. - A St. Petersburg funeral director has been found guilty of the nation's largest security breach of confidential AIDS information and could face up to 60 days in jail, court officials said Wednesday.

Gregory Wentz, 34, a funeral director from St. Petersburg, was pronounced guilty by Pinellas County Judge William Overton on Tuesday. No sentencing date was set.

Last September, investigators said, Wentz, 34, sent two newspapers copies of a list of 3,945 AIDS and HIV patients he stole from a laptop computer brought home by his former live-in companion, William Calvert, a state health worker against whom prosecutors said Wentz had a grudge.

Neither newspaper published the list, but panic ensued among patients who feared publicity could cost them friends, jobs and insurance coverage and forced the state to reappraise the way it handled confidential medical information.

In his job Calvert collected information about new AIDS cases as part of a national effort to track the spread of the deadly virus.

During testimony, Wentz denied the charge. His attorney, Bruce Howie, contended the laptop was often left in an open area where many people could have had access to it and that the defense did not prove Wentz sent the list.

Howie told Reuters Tuesday he would appeal because the case was the first prosecution under a new Florida statute that covers information on people who are HIV positive.

``I think that we presented an adequate defense and we challenged the sufficiency of the evidence,'' he said. ``But I now believe this case is going to be decided on its legal merits.''

Because he was a public health official, Calvert could face up to a year in prison if convicted of using the list for his own benefit. A date for his trial had not yet been set.