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BYLINE: Associated Press, KKTV / AP
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Pueblo County, CO
Tara Adame Admits To Taking Money
Guilty. That is the plea entered in by a former Sheriff’s Office employee who was accused of stealing evidence.
Tara Adame will now need to serve probation and pay restitution after pleading guilty to stealing from the evidence room. A judge may also decide to sentence Adame to spend time in jail.
11 News spoke exclusively with Sheriff Kirk Taylor, who tells us he thinks the plea deal is fair.
Taylor says this case has taken its toll on his employees and the community alike, and hopes now to move forward.
Adame is the former head of the evidence and property department at the PCSO. The 36-year-old was arrested for stealing thousands of dollars and dozens of prescription drugs from the evidence room.
Adame plead guilty to felony theft and first degree official misconduct. Charges of drug theft and evidence tampering were dropped as part of the deal. She is scheduled for sentencing on April 24.
Taylor says the hardest part about this case was that her actions violated the public’s trust, something he hopes to gain back.
"We work very, very hard with our internal policies to make sure that this doesn't happen. But ultimately this is a human business, and you are dealing with 330-plus employees. So unfortunately it does happen. It's how you deal with it and how you address it that I think is important for the public,” said Taylor.
As part of the deal, Taylor asked that Adame confess her crimes on paper and in open court to show the public that she acted alone.
He says a number of his employees in the same department underwent undeserved scrutiny as part of the outside investigation conducted by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, because of Adame’s actions.
Attached to the plea agreement is a list that details how she altered records to steal the funds, totaling $12,880.75. Those dollars were taken from 13 different cases.
"I took things that didn’t belong to me, and abused my position," Adame said when she formally accepted the plea deal in court Friday.
When asked how she did that, she responded: "by stealing.”
"I think it was very important that she take responsibility for it and I think ultimately it will help in the end not only for her own healing process, but the healing process of the agency as well,” said Taylor.
Taylor tells 11 News that their agency was the one that discovered the thefts, and quickly took action. In order to give the investigation credibility, they had the CBI do an outside investigation after finding evidence of the theft in their internal investigation.
Taylor hopes the thorough investigations and this guilty plea will help gain back the public’s trust and restore credibility to the agency.
"No matter how much technology or how many checks and balances you have in place, you are still dealing with human beings who make mistakes and ultimately commit crimes. But I'm very happy that we were able to find it and effectively address it and move forward,” said Taylor.
11 News was initially told stolen evidence was tied to at least 15 cases, some dating back to 2008. The district attorney’s office now tells 11 News that it didn’t inhibit those cases, including a murder case.
Previous court documents 11 News obtained showed that investigators discovered more than $10,500 and 200 various pain pills were missing from at least 15 cases. Adame plead guilty to stealing over $12,000 from 13 cases.
According to court documents, Taylor requested that the CBI assist regarding an alleged theft from their evidence vault on September 7.
Only two people had access into the evidence storage area. Evidence Custodian Brenda Vigil was cleared of suspicion after taking a polygraph. She said that Adame would not provide her any access to the drugs or money. Adame was the main caretaker of guns and drugs in the evidence room.
Investigators say a review of the computer tracking system revealed that Adame made suspicious record changes. The affidavit stated that Adame relabeled over $6,500 to “miscellaneous” status, so the money recently confiscated in a drug case could be destroyed. She made the changes in the computer system on July 18, 2011, the day before evidence was scheduled to be destroyed.
The location of the evidence was also changed to the “drug room," something officials confirmed should never happen, saying that money would never be stored in a drug room and would never be destroyed.
Time sheets showed that Adame was the only one working in the evidence room that day.
Investigators believe that Adame could have deposited stolen money into her account in order to pay off her debts.
During an interview with the CBI, Adame stated that she “understood why she would be suspect as evidence custodian, but her financial situation doesn’t make her a criminal.”
Adame resigned from her position as Evidence Custodian on September 8, the day after she was put on administrative leave for misuse of her purchasing card.
Investigators say she was stealing evidence for more than a year, from June 2010, to June 2011. Adame also allegedly had a track record of using a county-issued credit card for personal use.
According to an affidavit, she admitted to it, but thought it was okay if she reimbursed them. But when she tried, her check bounced.
"I would like to thank CBI for their invaluable assistance in bringing an end to this probe,” Taylor said. He also wants to thank the district attorney’s office for their hard work and dedication on the case.
Adame will be sentenced April 24.
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