The Palm Beach Post, palmbeachpost.com
BYLINE: Jorge Milian, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Riviera Beach, FL
Claudia V. Hutchinson
RIVIERA BEACH — No criminal cases have been compromised by the alleged theft of more than $100,000 in evidence by a former employee, Riviera Beach Police Chief Clarence Williams said Wednesday.
Claudia V. Hutchinson, a city employee for 20 years, was arrested Tuesday after an audit last August revealed that an evidence bag containing $642 was missing from the police department’s evidence room.
Police later found 189 empty evidence bags at Hutchinson’s home in West Palm Beach, according to an arrest report. Those bags had contained $101,000 in cash confiscated during arrests by Riviera Beach police.
“We don’t anticipate any problems with the cases that are connected with the monies that were taken,” Williams said. “So far, over a six-month period, we haven’t had any issues.”
Most of the money that went missing was linked to drug and gambling cases, Williams said. It’s uncertain how many cases are affected by the alleged thefts although Williams said that the total number of evidence bags found in Hutchinson’s possession means “it could potentially affect 189 cases.”
Williams said the missing cash was not necessary “per se” to further prosecutions.
A spokeswoman for the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s office said she was looking into the matter, but did not have an immediate comment.
Hutchinson, 42, is facing eight counts of destroying evidence and one count of larceny between $20,000 and $100,000. She was released from the Palm Beach County Jail Tuesday after posting a $29,000 bond.
Williams said Hutchinson served as a evidence room technician for eight years, but added he was confident the thefts took place only over a six-month period.
Hutchinson told a co-worker in August that she “accidentally took the evidence bag of $642 home” and would return it, the report said. The bag and money were found in the evidence room later, the report states.
A few days later, Hutchinson turned in her resignation. A Riviera Beach police captain went to Hutchinson’s home to return personal belongings and asked Hutchinson if she had anything that belonged to the police department.
Hutchinson allegedly returned with a trash bag filled with 119 empty evidence bags, the report said.
She gave consent for police to search her home and 70 more empty evidence bags were found. Those bags were also connected to active cases.
While police were conducting the search, Hutchinson “began to go into an emotional crisis” and was taken to a hospital.
Since the thefts were uncovered, Williams said his department has instituted changes to “give us greater check and balance.” Among the changes are quarterly audits of evidence instead of yearly audits. Extra personnel has also been added to the evidence room and the department has beefed up its technology for tracking evidence, Williams said.
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