Press & Sun-Bulletin (Binghamton, New York) FRONT; Pg. A1
BYLINE: STEVE REILLY,
, Staff Writer
Johnson City, NY
Over $100,000 found in police department cabinet
JOHNSON CITY - Call it the $100,000 question.
That's what village officials have had on their hands since the discovery of a shoebox stuffed with bags of cash in the evidence room of the Johnson City Police Department in February.
Even after six months and two inventories - one of which is still ongoing - no one can figure out where it came from. Mayor Dennis Hannon said he is "concerned" by the discovery, which he said totals between $100,000 and $150,000.
"Those monies should be sitting in a village account, not over in the evidence room," Hannon said. "I want to make absolutely certain that every dollar that was put in that evidence room is there. And if it's not, what happened to it, and make sure somebody's held accountable."
According to Hannon, a "ranking supervisor" told him about the shoebox in February, shortly after former Police Chief Douglas Potts left the department.
"Once that was brought to my attention, I ordered the acting chief at the time (Lt. David Smith) to immediately begin a documentation process comparing those funds with cases to make sure that all funds were accounted for," he said.
A four-month internal inventory from February until May could not attach specific cases to the cash.
When Binghamton Police Chief Joseph Zikuski also became the village's top cop in May, Hannon asked for an independent inventory of the entire evidence room be conducted by Binghamton police department officers. That process is still under way and, as yet, the cash has not been linked to specific cases.
Some of the money was likely seized during drug arrests, Hannon said.
The mayor went on to say that while department policy dictates seized cash should be turned over to the village immediately, the presence of this treasure means those procedures were violated.
From the vantage point of Hannon, a former police chief, the possibility of impropriety hasn't been ruled out. Hannon was village police chief from 1995 to 1999.
"Has any of that cash walked out of the building previously? We don't know, because we're still in the process of inventory," Hannon said. "I do know it has been brought to my attention that some of the bags of money were found to be cut open. I'm not saying that means anything. That just is a fact."
Zikuski, however, said the officers currently conducting the inventory have found absolutely no evidence of wrongdoing. Some of the bags are more than a decade old, he said, and their presence reflects antiquated law enforcement practices.
"While 20 years ago that may have been acceptable, that's no longer acceptable today," he said.
Zikuski said some of the bags are cut open, but they are accompanied by documentation saying who opened them, when, and how much was taken out. The shoebox was in a locked cabinet in the evidence room.
Since Hannon was notified of the shoebox full of cash, six of the department's 39 officers - including some of its most senior members - have retired. In addition to Potts, Sgt. William Mitchell, Lt. David Smith, Captain Wayne Steffen, Patrolman Paul Burnett and Detective James Guiton have retired.
Guiton was the department's evidence technician, and Zikuski said mysterious shoeboxes aside, it is "standard procedure" to conduct a complete evidence room inventory when transitioning to a new evidence officer.
"It's an accreditation standard that's just good police practice," Zikuski said.
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