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Investigators probe cash missing from Hollywood Police Department’s evidence room

The Miami Herald,

Hollywood, FL

Nevins in '94 copy / Hollywood Police Department

Broward County and state law enforcement authorities are investigating that as much as $175,000 may be missing from the Hollywood Police Department’s evidence room, sources have told The Miami Herald.

The Broward State Attorney’s Office and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement are focused on a recently retired police sergeant whose job included overseeing the evidence room for the past few years — although everyone who has overseen the evidence room for the past few years is also being scrutinized, the sources said. The sergeant, John Nevins, was allegedly captured on video being let into the room’s back door and moving boxes out.

Nevins, 51, who retired in April, was reached Thursday night outside his Cooper City home. He gave his explanation for being in the evidence room: “I went to get empty boxes to pack with gifts for the needy,” he said. “We stored empty boxes down there.”

He said he was not aware of the investigation.

“The rumor mill has been going and there have been a lot of phone calls as of late,” he acknowledged. “Many people worked in there.”

The evidence depository, which is under video monitoring and scanned inventory control, stores all property seized in connection with a criminal case. Often this includes money, drugs, guns and other valuables collected at a crime scene.

The police department’s procedure calls for every item placed into evidence to be fully described and logged on forms. All money must be put in a currency pouch and separated from other property.

Mismanagement of the evidence could lead to cases being dismissed.

Jeff Marano, head of the Broward County police union, said he was aware that questions had been raised about missing evidence, including money.

“They went to retrieve some evidence for a case and apparently found that some money was missing,’’ Marano said.

It is unclear when FDLE was alerted to the missing money.

According to Nevins’ personnel file, which was reviewed by The Miami Herald, nothing indicates that the police department’s Internal Affairs unit or then-Police Chief Chad Wagner took any action until recently.

However, Frank Fernandez, Hollywood’s assistant city manager who supervises the police department, said Thursday that he first became aware of the issue just after he was hired in August. He said Wagner, who retired a few weeks ago, informed him of the probe that had been referred to the state attorney’s office and FDLE.

“I don’t know specifics,” Fernandez said.

FDLE investigators already have been to the station to collect evidence.

The money, which went missing sometime last year, ranges anywhere from $125,000 to $175,000, according to several sources close to the investigation.

A civilian employee of the police department is also under investigation after allowing Nevins to return — this time as a civilian — to the evidence room and leave with boxes, a violation of police department regulations, according to law enforcement authorities.

Civilians, and even law enforcement officers, are not allowed into the evidence room without permission or signing in, and all evidence is supposed to be scanned and inventoried. Marano said officers often come and go from the area on a regular basis.

City officials were aware of problems with its evidence vault as long as five years ago after a civilian who had been running the operation retired. At that time, the whole division was found in gross disarray, sources said.

Nevins, a 30-year veteran of the department, took it over and two other divisions.

The storage room “was a complete mess” when he took over, Nevins said Thursday. He said he asked his bosses several years ago for a financial audit after he couldn’t find things that should have been there.

Fernandez, the assistant city manager, said that once the investigation is complete he will look into whether there were any “missteps.”

“I’m going to do a thorough review,” he said.

Nevins was enrolled in the city’s lucrative DROP program — Deferred Retirement Option Plan — that allowed employees to “retire” but continue to work and earn a salary. However, they have to leave at a designated time. Nevins’ time was up in April. He left with about $350,000 in his pension.

The department’s new interim police chief, Vince Affanato, a former Hollywood police major, could not be reached for comment. And Wagner, now a captain at the Broward Sheriff’s office, also could not be reached.

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