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St. Petersburg Times (Florida)

Hernando County, FL

HIGHLIGHT: The cash vanished from the Sheriff's Office's property and evidence room. Blurb.blurb.blurb.blurb.

More than $11,000 is missing from the Hernando County Sheriff's Office's property and evidence room. And the agency says there are no suspects or clues to the money's whereabouts.  The Sheriff's Office said this week that the case is inactive, meaning that investigators have no further leads or in-formation to follow. They also don't have enough evidence or information to identify a suspect or make an arrest.

During a routine audit in January, officials discovered that an evidence bag containing $3,185 in cash was missing, according to an investigative report released Thursday by the Sheriff's Office. The report says that John Manning, the Sheriff's Office's property and evidence supervisor, and a temporary employee then searched every evidence envelope in the room until they realized that the money was missing and not misplaced.

Days later, Manning took a manila envelope containing evidence to the finance department. He discovered then that one of the containers within the larger envelope was missing - one that was supposed to be holding $8,000 in cash. Manning "turned white as a ghost and said, 'Oh, my God,'" Sheriff's Office finance director Emily Vernon told investigators.

On Jan. 8, the Sheriff's Office opened a criminal investigation of the property and evidence room. Over the next three months, detectives interviewed those workers who had access to the evidence room, Manning and eight other employees. Six were tested using a computer voice stress analysis test.

During his interview Jan. 14, Manning told detectives that his evidence procedures had never failed in the past and that he had made necessary improvements during the years he had worked in the evidence room.

Manning also said that money had never gone missing before, calling this a case of "blatant thievery."

Two weeks later, Manning submitted a one-sentence letter to Sheriff Richard Nugent announcing his intention to resign immediately after nearly 20 years with the agency. He gave no reason for his resignation.  At the time, Sgt. Donna Black, a spokeswoman for the Sheriff's Office, said the investigation had nothing to do with Manning.

Of the employees who were interviewed using the stress analysis test, only former Deputy Michael Faustini showed signs of deception when asked whether he had taken anything of value or any of the missing money from the evidence room, according to a report from the Sheriff's Office.

Faustini had been assigned to the evidence room while an investigation into an unrelated incident was conducted. He was dismissed this year as a result of that internal investigation, Black said. Black said the missing money was no longer needed as evidence for criminal cases and that the Sheriff's Office's insurance policy had already covered the money.

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