Springfield pays more than $50,000 to defendants to cover missing police evidence room money
The Republican, MassLive, masslive.com
BYLINE: Stephanie Barry |
SPRINGFIELD - City officials have confirmed they have paid out more than $50,000 to criminal defendants or their attorneys to cover cash that has been reported missing from the Police Department evidence room.
Responding to a public records request by The Republican, lawyers for the city reported that 11 defendants whose cases were dismissed or otherwise disposed of were paid back money that was seized during police raids or arrests. The payouts ranged from $119 to more than $25,000 to a single defendant.
The money has come out of the city's coffers in addition to $170,000 being paid to a Boston consulting firm to audit the evidence room. Police Commissioner John Barbieri in March confirmed that an unspecified amount of money had disappeared and they were investigating.
City officials have not commented publicly on where they believe the money may have gone.
Barbieri said in his initial written statement that "a discovery that the Police Department was unable to locate certain U.S. currency related to closed criminal matters in which cash had been seized" led to a specific inquiry in February.
The city subsequently announced that it had hired Marcum LLP to pore over evidence related to 10,000 pending drug cases. The first contract was inked for $120,000 in May, and agreed to pay auditors a $225 hourly rate to count bundles of money.
Last month, however, auditors reported that they were close to exceeding the city's "maximum liability" and still had more work to do. The city agreed to increase the cap to $170,000 and extend the deadline from Aug. 31 to Nov. 30.
Of the 11 defendants on the list provided by the city, Springfield attorney Joe A. Smith III represented one whose drug possession case was dismissed and was owed $800. The money had been seized during the man's arrest. Smith said it took police months to return the money after he placed more than a dozen calls to the department. In addition, they never disclosed his client's cash was among the missing.
"They would tell me the property officers were never there ... They would tell me they had new policies," Smith said. "They never told me they couldn't find it. I couldn't figure out what the hold up was."
Sgt. John M. Delaney, a spokesman for the police department, said he was unable to comment because of the ongoing nature of the investigation.
In at least one other case, a police officer was forced to testify that money earmarked as evidence in a drug trial also had disappeared.
Marcum will issue a report at the conclusion of the audit; an attorney for the city said he expects that the report will be a public record.
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