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Ramsey County sheriff's staffer fired amid gang unit inquiry

St. Paul Pioneer Press (Minnesota)
BYLINE: By Mara H. Gottfried,

Ramsey County, MN

The Ramsey County sheriff's office has terminated an employee who was the Metro Gang Strike Force's lone administrative assistant.

Cindy Gehlsen's discharge for violating policies came at the end of the workday last Thursday, the sheriff's office said Tuesday.

The violations fell under Ramsey County personnel rules for conduct unbecoming an officer or county employee, as well as gang strike force policies for evidence/property handling and impounding evidence, said Holli Drinkwine, sheriff's office spokeswoman. She said she could not elaborate on the details.

Gehlsen could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

The sheriff's office opened an internal affairs investigation into Gehlsen after the Aug. 20 release of an independent review into the gang strike force. The review found perhaps a dozen strike force employees engaged in misconduct and some in criminal acts by taking seized goods for their own use.

The strike force, now defunct, is under FBI investigation.

Gehlsen, who was a community service officer but not a sworn officer, was put on paid leave the day the internal affairs investigation was opened. She had worked for the sheriff's office since January 2006.

A legislative auditor's report on the gang strike force released in May said the multi-agency task force, with one administrative assistant, didn't have sufficient administrative staff to conduct its operations.

The report said the assistant -- who wasn't named in the report, but who the legislative auditor has confirmed was Gehlsen -- "maintained all of the inventory records, was the property room custodian, was responsible for two local checking accounts, controlled the confidential informant funds, sent seizure notices to the attorney general's office, obtained reimbursements from the fiscal agent, maintained the case files and performed other office functions, such as answering phones and providing clerical services."

The report said Gehlsen's "tracking records were not complete to track the flow of cash" seized.

When investigators brought seized cash in, Gehlsen was the only one with "access to the cash, the receipt tracking records, and the investigators' case files," the report said. "No one independent of the cash handling process verified that the cash seizures reported in the case files and the receipt tracking records agreed to cash held or deposited with the fiscal agent."

The legislative auditor's report cited an instance when Gehlsen "improperly handled seized property." She "gave some seized jewelry determined to have no value to another Department of Public Safety employee working at the strike force," the report said. "Later, the employee's supervisor required her to return the jewelry to the strike force."

"By relying on one person for so much of its administrative functions, the strike force increased the risk of a breakdown in its financial operations," the report said.

After internal affairs investigations into two other Ramsey County sheriff's employees assigned to the gang strike force, the office in September suspended deputy Paul Meskan for 25 days for "improper evidence/property procedures" and deputy Chris Tayson for 10 days for the same reason.

St. Paul police internal affairs investigations continue, Sgt. Paul Schnell, department spokesman, said Tuesday. He said they've been "complicated by the external investigation that's being done."

One former and five current St. Paul officers are "of interest" -- two "in significant matters" and the others "more in procedural matters," police have said.

Internal affairs investigations into Minneapolis police officers are also under way. Police said in September that they had learned "of several allegations of misconduct" involving seven Minneapolis officers assigned to the strike force.

Mara H. Gottfried can be reached at 651-228-5262.

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