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Sheriff disputes challenger's charge of stolen drug evidence

Times Union,
Link to Article

Rensselaer County, NY

Candidate Gary Gordon cites "disturbing" case of missing drug evidence

TROY -- A candidate for sheriff is calling for a further investigation into a case of drugs that went missing from a sheriff's evidence lockup earlier this year, leading to the freeing of a man facing nine drug counts.

Gary Gordon, an investigator for District Attorney Richard McNally, said Buddy Winston, 31, was freed in February on time served after the Rensselaer County Sheriff's Department lost the powder cocaine, crack cocaine, ecstasy, oxycodone and marijuana from its evidence storage area.

Gordon is challenging Sheriff Jack Mahar in next month's election.

Mahar called the case an isolated incident and said the airing of it at this time a political move by Gordon.

The drugs were allegedly found in Winston's possession after he was stopped on Feb. 23, 2010, on Tamarac Road in Pittstown. He was indicted in August of that year on multiple charges of criminal possession of a controlled substance and unlawful possession of marijuana, according to court records. He could have faced up to 12 years in prison on the charges.

The drugs went missing sometime between his indictment and Feb. 15, 2011, when he pleaded guilty to a gun charge and was sentenced to time served. The .357-caliber revolver found on him during the stop was in the jail evidence lockup, officials said.

"All I can say is that we were informed before going to trial that the sheriff's office could not find the drug evidence and it did affect the outcome of the case,'' McNally said.

Gordon said if there was a serious internal investigation into the matter, no findings were released.

"No disciplinary measures have been handed down to any sheriff's department personnel," Gordon said. "The disturbing pattern of covering up incidents that threaten the safety of our citizens needs to end. Any responsible leader would want to identify the problem and take every possible step to ensure it never happens again."

Mahar said an internal investigation found no wrongdoing.

Mahar said when the case was scheduled for trial eight months ago, his office provided the DA with a list of all of the evidence against Winston except approximately 7 grams of cocaine. He said he believed the drug was accidentally destroyed during the jail expansion and renovation project and the relocation of the evidence room.

Mahar said Undersheriff Pat Russo did investigated and "instituted a new tracking system and new procedures to safeguard the transfer of evidence."

"We feel confident that those procedures have been working flawlessly and that this was an isolated incident. I would just question the timing of my opponent's comments on this case. If this was such a concern to the DA's office, why wasn't the issue raised eight months ago?"

Reach Bob Gardinier at 454-5696 or .

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