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SALEM - A top state investigator has resigned as chief counsel for the criminal division of the Oregon Justice Department after he deleted a number of government emails, state Attorney General John Kroger said Friday.

Sean Riddell deleted the emails under the mistaken belief that the computer files had been backed up on tape, Kroger said.

Although we were able to recover many of the deleted e-mails, an unknown number have been lost permanently, Kroger said.

The deleted emails were discovered in response to a request for public records related to an investigation of an Oregon Department of Energy contract, said Tony Green, a Kroger spokesman. Some of the deleted emails pertained to the DOE investigation, but Green said the missing emails were not deleted based on the content they contained.

Green said Riddell was not available to comment. The voicemail box for a listed telephone number was full.

Riddell has figured prominently in some recent high-profile cases. He led the investigation into an energy subcontract awarded to a company co-owned by Cylvia Hayes, the companion of Gov. John Kitzhaber, who was a candidate for the office at the time.

No criminal charges were ever filed in the case, and the four state employees involved were returned to their jobs without discipline this month after outside lawyers found they did not violate state policies. The report was highly critical of the Department of Justice investigation.

Energy Department employees have said the $60,000 subcontract went to Hayes' company, the only bidder based in Oregon, because they wanted to ensure that at least a piece of the contract awarded to R.W. Beck of Seattle remained in the state.

Last month, two prominent Oregon lawyers filed an ethics complaint against Riddell with the Oregon State Bar, alleging Riddell repeatedly lied to witnesses and coerced and intimidated them so he could deceive them into making statements that could be used against the targets of his investigation.

The complaint was filed by Bill Gary and Dave Frohnmayer, lawyers for Mark Long, the former Energy Department interim director. State Bar spokeswoman Kateri Walsh said the complaint is still going through an initial screening and lawyers haven't decided whether to forward it to the Disciplinary Counsel's office.

I think it's a good thing for the state of Oregon, Sharon Rudnick, one of Long's lawyers, said of Riddell's resignation. This man has been yielding the prosecutorial powers of the state and damaging lots of people's lives and careers, and I think it's time it should stop.

Riddell, a former Multnomah County prosecutor, joined the justice department as the top criminal prosecutor in July 2009. He's a former Marine captain and a 2001 graduate of Lewis and Clark Law School.

Kroger said Riddell would take a leave from the Justice Department before returning in August to be reassigned.

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