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Thousands stolen from MDC inmates, audit says

An investigation by the state auditor alleges a former supervisor at the Metropolitan Detention Center took more than $15,000 from inmates’ accounts. (Dean Hanson/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

A former supervisor in charge of inmates’ funds at the county jail is accused of taking advantage of her position to steal more than $15,000 from inmates’ accounts since 2016, according to a recently released investigation by the New Mexico state auditor.

Investigators allege a Fiscal Programs supervisor – referred to as “K.A.” in the report – issued fraudulent debit cards to take money from the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Detention Center’s Inmate Trust account, which is used for commissary and phone card transactions. The Journal has learned the subject of the investigation is Kate Aldrich, an employee at MDC since 1993.

The supervisor was put on administrative leave in February 2019, when the allegations surfaced but has since retired. Aldrich could not be reached for comment.

“Time and time again, marginalized populations end up getting taken advantage of, and this is another clear example where somebody contemplated that, ‘These are inmates at MDC – who’s going to notice?’ ” State Auditor Brian Colón said. “So for me, their rights are just as important as yours and mine, and they’ve been violated here, and they’ve been taken advantage of, and we’re going to hold systems and individuals accountable every time, regardless of who the victim is.”

MDC spokeswoman Julia Rivera said that the money has since been returned to inmates’ accounts and that the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the matter. BCSO said the criminal investigation is continuing.

The audit found that between 2016 and 2019, the supervisor held an “excessive amount of control” over her staff, with “full authority” over employees’ user names and passwords.

Normally, when inmates are released, the remaining funds in their account are loaded onto a debit card and given to them. But according to the audit, many of the flagged debit cards were issued over a year after an inmate’s release, processed on the supervisor’s computer with different employee logins and often spent “at the same location, at the same time or within mere minutes of each other.”

Colón’s office is asking MDC to take a number of steps to beef up its internal controls to prevent similar thefts.

Recommendations include:

⋄ Prohibiting employees from sharing logins and passwords.

⋄ Not allowing employees to remotely access the system.

⋄ Improving safekeeping of debit cards and equipment.

⋄ Segregating duties for staff involved in inmate funds.

⋄ Running an annual report to claim all abandoned accounts and send them to the state’s Unclaimed Property Division.

The supervisor had previously worked in the Cash Accounting Department at MDC, where she was “reluctant to relinquish her responsibilities and control.”

MDC officials were tipped off Feb. 20, 2019, when a former inmate called about money missing from their account, according to the audit. Suspicions arose when it was discovered that a card was issued under a supervisor’s login when the supervisor wasn’t “physically present” at the jail.

The audit says that the supervisor was placed on administrative leave pending a BCSO investigation. MDC officials found 64 fraudulent debit cards had been issued and spent since September 2018 for a total of $9,453, according to the audit.

Around that time, a Smith’s grocery store receipt was found in the supervisor’s desk for a bag of pita chips and $200 cash back on one of the fraudulent cards.

Investigators with the state auditor got involved and pulled more than 22,000 debit cards issued since January 2016, when the supervisor moved into her most-recent role. Investigators found an additional 36 fraudulent debit cards issued and spent for a total of $6,213.

The audit also found that dozens of the cards had been processed on the supervisor’s computer – some of them five years after the inmate’s release – but under a different employee login and, often, within minutes of each other.

Most of the surveyed cards were used at Walmart, Smith’s and different gas stations across the city, including almost 20 transactions at the Love’s Travel Stop down the road from MDC. Nearly a dozen cards were used – often the same day they were issued but years after the inmates’ release – to spend more than $1,500 at Isleta Resort and Casino from April to December 2016.

By 2018, the supervisor had begun using a laptop issued by MDC to access the system remotely and had a debit card scanner and empty debit cards delivered to her home, according to the audit.

“The laptop, debit card scanner and unloaded debit cards were eventually seized by the (BCSO) during the execution of a search warrant at the location of K.A.’s home,” an investigator wrote.

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