First Coast News, firstcoastnews.com
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Columbia County, FL
COLUMBIA COUNTY, Fla. -- It took nearly six years to track down, but a grand jury said it knows what happened to more than $100,000 cash that disappeared from the sheriff's office.
Today, the grand jury issued its decision on the case of the missing money. The report names legal assistant Pamela Foxx, employed by the Columbia County Sheriff's Office starting in 2003.
The grand jury said Foxx, during three sheriffs' tenures, had 159 instances of removing money from either the evidence room or the motor vehicle impound facility adding up to over $277,000.
It stems back to the departure of the in-house attorney for the sheriff's office in 2004. Foxx was the legal assistant, supervised by the attorney.
However, when the attorney left, the replacement was a contract attorney in Tallahassee, who didn't provide day-to-day supervision.
The grand jury decided Foxx was then able, without supervision, to go to the evidence room and sign for cash that was seized.
A look into her personal bank account showed more than $100,000 that could not be explained, and Foxx eventually admitted to taking $50-60,000. The grand jury said there is "ample evidence" to suggest she took more than $100,000.
The investigation began when two people requested their seized money back, but it was gone.
The comptroller found it had been removed by Foxx, so the sheriff's office gave her 24 hours to get the money back. The report said Foxx was unable to explain what happened, so she was put on leave.
That incident led to a larger investigation involving the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Foxx eventually admitted to her role in taking the money.
The grand jury considers those actions embezzlement. Its report cites a "fundamentally flawed" system that enabled any employee to simply sign for money, though it does note the criminal is ultimately responsible for the action.
The report also points to poor adherence to procedures, specifically in allowing the legal assistant to operate without supervision from an attorney, and a poor job of checking on employees, which could have led to a much quicker resolution of the problem.
The grand jury recommended the sheriff's office make use of an outside auditor to help track all seized funds.
Foxx was arrested on a grand theft charge.
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