GREENEVILLE PUBLISHING COMPANY, The Greeneville Sun, greenevillesun.com
BYLINE: KEN LITTLE STAFF WRITER
Link to Article
Dist. Attorney Bell Says His Office Had To Dismiss 3 Felony Drug Cases
An audit of the Third Judicial District Drug Task Force (DTF) found missing drug evidence in 223 cases, a cash shortage of $1,700 and other deficiencies in the "financial stability" and recording and management of seized property.
The audit, for the fiscal year ending on June 30, 2012, was conducted by the state comptroller's office and includes all 31 drug task forces in the state. The Third Judicial District includes Greene, Hamblin, Hancock and Hawkins counties.
"Drug evidence was missing from numerous cases," according to the DTF audit.
Three felony drug cases in the Third Judicial District have been dismissed because of missing evidence, District Attorney General Berkeley Bell said Tuesday.
Former DTF Director Scott Castle was removed from the job on July 31, 2012, and replaced by a member of the Greeneville Police Department on Aug. 1, 2012, the audit notes.
Because the current director is involved in undercover drug investigations, he is not named in this report.
Castle remains with the Hawkins County Sheriff's Department.
"Our review disclosed that significant improvements have been made in the operations of the drug task force since the change in directors was made," the audit said.
In a July 2012 interview following an earlier audit of the DTF by the state comptroller's office, Bell said Castle "underwent some personal difficulties and this caused him to divert his attention away from his employment responsibilities and led to a lack of oversight of the operation."
All 31 judicial district drug task forces in the state are administered by district attorneys general.
The current director, contacted Tuesday, referred all questions about the audit to Bell.
Bell said his office provided much of the information used by the comptroller's office in the audit.
"We're continuing to address these issues. They've been extremely helpful to us," Bell said. "We hope that we've identified everything and we won't have any more findings."
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) is investigating the audit findings. A TBI spokeswoman did not immediately respond to questions about the investigation.
The audit said that on Sept. 26, 2012, the current director was preparing an inventory of evidence for destruction orders "when it became obvious that certain evidence was missing," the audit said.
He informed Bell, who directed him to contact the TBI.
"On Feb. 5, 2013, the district attorney general advised us that evidence (drugs) was missing in numerous cases," the audit said.
The new director reported a total of 223 cases "in which a portion or all of the evidence related to the case was missing."
3 CASES DISMISSED
Bell said that as a result of the missing evidence, his office had to dismiss three felony drug cases.
"That's all the cases we believe (will be) dismissed. Many of the drugs were from cases long disposed of and the drugs had yet to be destroyed," Bell said. "One of the problems we found under the previous director was that he was not following protocol as far as the destruction of drugs."
Typical protocol calls for the destruction of drugs within 13 months after the cases have been adjudicated, Bell said.
Missing drugs, Bell said, "run the gamut" of controlled substances seized during DTF investigations, including prescription narcotics like oxycodone, along with cocaine and methamphetamine.
Bell said his office "has a good idea" of the quantity of missing drugs, but declined to be more specific because of the ongoing TBI investigation.
The state comptroller's office recommends that officials "should continue to take steps to determine what happened to the missing evidence and assign responsibility for this lack of internal control."
Internal controls for evidence "should include physical controls, tracking, segregation of duties, documentation, audit and training," the audit said.
The DTF currently has three full-time members. All are from either the Greene County Sheriff's Office or the Greeneville Police Department, Bell said.
ADMINISTERED BY BOARD
The DTF is administered by a board of directors that includes supervisory officers from law enforcement agencies in the four-county Third Judicial District.
Directors include Greene County Sheriff Steve Burns, who is board chairman; Terry Cannon, Greeneville Police Department chief; and Bell.
"(The DTF) is still administered by the board of directors. They do an excellent job," Bell said. "We don't anticipate changing that at all."
Some changes have already been made at DTF headquarters, located in Greene County.
"We have made quite a few changes to our headquarters and how we store things and how we account for things and how we monitor things," Bell said.
Other improvements will be made as funds become available, Bell said.
$1,700 CASH SHORTAGE
The audit found that the DTF had a cash shortage of $1,700 on Feb. 14, 2013. Cash on hand is kept to supply informants with funds "for confidential undercover purchases and drug buys," the audit said.
According to the audit, a check for $3,000 dated April 12, 2012, from the Judicial District Drug Fund (JDDF) was received by Castle and deposited to the DTF checking account on April 18, 2012. A cash withdrawal of $1,700 was made on the same date.
"The director's cash control log reflects a deposit of $3,000 and a reduction of $1,700 from cash on hand, giving the impression that the $1,700 had been disbursed or otherwise used for DTF purposes. However, we could find no documentation of this $1,700 actually being disbursed or used for any DTF purpose," the audit said.
The audit said that on July 31, 2012, the new DTF director "received $3,051 (in) cash, which was the balance reflected in the cash on hand from the outgoing DTF director. Total cash of $4,751 should have been transferred; therefore, the unaccounted cash on hand totaled $1,700."
The state comptroller's office recommendation is that "management should take steps to liquidate the $1,700 cash shortage."
Other findings in the audit include "deficiencies noted in the recording and management of seized property."
It said that cash seizure logs maintained by DTF personnel reflected a balance of $33,205 on June 30, 2012. But on the Order of Compromise and Settlements prepared by the Tennessee Department of Safety (TDOS) that of the $33,205 in seized cash, $27,781 had been awarded to the DTF by the TDOS before June 30, 2012, but had not been deposited with the Greene County trustee.
In August 2012, the new DTF director opened a checking account to deposit seized cash that had been maintained in the evidence room.
All seizures subsequent to that date were also deposited in the checking account. Seized cash will remain in the checking account until a disposition order is received from TDOS, the audit noted.
The audit also found that an inventory log of vehicles seized by the DTF were maintained by the DTF director.
"However, we noted that two vehicles that had been seized but were not recorded in the inventory log," the audit said.
"Based on our review of the evidence room and discussions with various agents, it appears that property in cases that had been adjudicated had not been sold or otherwise disposed of in a number of years. We also noted instances where personal property had been seized but had not been listed in the evidence log," the audit said.
As of Feb. 14, 2013, DTF personnel were preparing personal property and firearms records to obtain an order for the sale of the items, the audit said.
Recommendations include cash and funds seized by the DTF be deposited with the Greene County trustee in a timely manner "to improve cash flow."
Also, inventory logs for any seizures of cash, vehicles and personal property should be properly maintained, the audit recommends.
"Any proceeds from the sale of seized items should be properly deposited with the Greene County trustee," the audit said.
The audit also found that while payments to confidential informants were recorded on the agent's activity logs and supported with documentation, the documentation did not always include a witness signature.
"In addition, certain payments were not always properly posted to the confidential informants' payment history log," the audit noted.
The audit found that former DTF Director Castle did not properly review agents' records.
It also noted that statements from a bank account maintained by the DTF director to account for certain confidential transactions were not reconciled with the accounting records.
In another instance, the audit found that confidential funds were used to pay for an agent's travel expenses, including alcohol, personal hygiene supplies and food during a two-week stay at a Mississippi training facility.
"The agent stated that the former director instructed him to use confidential funds for the purchases," the audit said.
The audit also found that DTF purchases were not made in accordance with Greene County purchasing procedures, equipment inventory control records were not properly maintained and the DTF "had deficiencies in the use of Justice Assistance Grant Program Funds."
Of the 31 task forces given the responsibility of coordinating drug enforcement efforts across Tennessee, the audit uncovered "findings" in five judicial districts, including the Third Judicial District.
HELP WITH 'SOLUTIONS'
Bell expressed appreciation to the state comptroller's office in a "management's response" section included in the audit "for their help and guidance in directing us through a difficult transition from our past director to our present director."
"With their help we identified areas in which the previous director failed to perform his duties adequately. They also helped us find solutions to the problems that resulted from such failure," Bell wrote.
"We are still discovering problems, such as missing evidence and a cash shortage. These matters are under investigation and will be resolved. Our director will continue to work diligently to identify problems, solve them, and avoid them in the future," Bell wrote.
Three drug cases dismissed because of missing evidence is a serious matter, Bell acknowledged Tuesday, but he reiterated that no more cases are expected to be thrown out.
"There have been situations in other jurisdictions that many cases have been dismissed and we're thankful here there were no other cases," Bell said.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
International Association for Property and Evidence
"Law Enforcement Serving the Needs of Law Enforcement"