Thursday, March 4, 2004
APD Evidence Thefts Alleged
By Chris Vogel
Journal Staff Writer
The state Attorney General's Office has agreed to investigate the possible theft of money and property from Albuquerque Police Department's evidence room.
And it is looking at APD's handling of its own investigation into the case.
Albuquerque's top law enforcement officials asked for the AG's help a day after they received an anonymous letter claiming police employees had stolen "thousands of dollars in cash, drugs, guns, jewelry and other high dollar items" from the evidence room and questioning APD's handling of the investigation.
"It's been festering so long that we've had to draw a line in the sand saying something needs to be done," Nick Bakas, the city's chief law enforcement officer, said Wednesday. "We're bringing in the AG and the auditors and we'll see what needs to be done."
APD started investigating its evidence unit in August after questions were raised over the way evidence had been auctioned off.
Investigators have since discovered that other evidence may be missing, including money from the Bernalillo County Sheriff's Department.
"It's safe to say it's a significant amount of money," Sheriff Darren White said Wednesday. The sheriff's department contracts with APD to store evidence.
White said he recently met with Police Chief Gilbert Gallegos, who told him about the investigation. How much money may be missing was not discussed, he said.
A team of auditors
White and other law enforcement officials received the anonymous memo earlier this week.
Bakas said the memo was a factor but not the sole reason for bringing in outside help.
"We've been looking at bringing in the forensic auditors for some time," he said. "The memo had some influence, but if these outrageous allegations are out there, they need to be addressed."
The memo claims that evidence had been destroyed and that "APD management has even helped to cover up the crimes."
"There have been rumors of corruption ... " Gallegos said. "But there has been no attempt by anyone to obstruct the investigation. We have sought independent authorities to assist because we do not want accusations of a cover-up."
Gallegos said in addition to the AG investigation, a team of forensic auditors will look into whether there were procedural improprieties within APD's evidence unit.
Private forensic auditors, who collect evidence to present in court, will try to determine how much money is missing and examine how evidence is processed, Gallegos said. He said investigators do not know how much money or property is missing at this time.
Attorney general investigators will determine whether any state laws have been violated and whether there was any interference within the department concerning the investigation, Gallegos said.
District Attorney Kari Brandenburg said Wednesday she recalled a case where APD told the prosecutor some evidence had been mistakenly auctioned. The missing evidence did not hinder the case.
Soon, a criminal investigation was initiated.
Several months later, allegations that "some money was missing" surfaced, Gallegos said.
Several civilian evidence technicians were investigated, which resulted in Gallegos removing two employees from the evidence unit in January, Gallegos said. They were reassigned to a different division.
"We're looking into whether it was poor bookkeeping or malice," he said.
The anonymous memo criticized APD for leaving the employees in place for several months while they continued to have access to evidence while the investigation continued.
When asked why the delay from August to January in removing employees suspected in the investigation, Gallegos said, "If I knew then what I know now, I might have acted differently. But everything was done appropriately."
Said Bakas, "What could be done with the information we had was done. Civilian employees have certain rights, and policy states we have to establish proof before we can act ...
"The reason they were removed was so they were no longer in the evidence room environment," Gallegos said. "And where they were placed, they had nothing to do with the investigation and could not influence it from where they were at."
No one has been charged and APD has not yet forwarded its investigation to the District Attorney's Office, Gallegos said.
He said he has not seen proof that any evidence records are missing or have been tampered with.
"We hope to find that out during the (forensic) audit, and it could be that some documents are gone," he said.
The anonymous memo is lengthy and includes numerous detailed allegations, most of which Gallegos and Bakas disputed. Some allegations were still being investigated.