A thief breaks into the building that houses a safe and makes off with it. The thief is caught on camera but is not identified. Four people have access to the safe. In a later incident $25,732.15 turns up missing from the Solid Waste Authority accounts. The sheriff's office completes its investigation, but the county counsel seals the sheriff's report. The news media's request to release the investigative report concerning the missing funds is denied by the county counsel on three different occasions. The executive director retires with a $35,000 severance package.
It's a puzzle worthy of an Angela Lansbury mystery, and it happened right here in Del Norte County.
In August of last year, Clinton Schaad, the county auditor, noticed something strange when going over the accounts from the Solid Waste Transfer Station. It seemed to him that money was missing. Suspecting embezzlement, he consulted with members of the Solid Waste Authority Board. At the insistence of the board, the executive director was directed to hire forensic auditor Don Scanlon to conduct the investigation. He confirmed that $25,732.15 was indeed missing and that the theft had nothing to do with the assumption by the Solid Waste Authority that it was part of a "bad check buyback" where people who had bounced checks were contacted and, at a later date, they came into the authority and made the checks good or paid the bad check with cash. Schaad agrees, saying that "I don't believe for a minute that it was just a case of making up for bad checks."
Schaad suspects that, since authority deposits were not made on a daily basis and, in fact, some were not made until weeks later, the deposits were "kited." Kiting is a form of fraud. It falsely inflates the balance of a checking account to allow checks that would otherwise bounce to clear. In this case, Schaad suspects that small amounts of cash were stolen on a regular basis. When the thief did not replace the stolen funds the next day, the amount recorded as under what should have been accounted for was made up by the next day's deposit. With this happening over a period of years, it added up to thousands of dollars.
So who were the suspects? Well, according to the recently released sheriff's report, just two people are listed as suspects: the executive director and one senior employee. Both had keys to the safe where the deposits would have been placed.
But wait andhellip; there's more. Several weeks earlier, a burglary took place at the offices of the Solid Waste Management Administrative Building. What was taken? According to the sheriff's incident report, nothing was taken, but the burglar did try unsuccessfully to take the safe. Less than a month later a second burglary occurred at the same office. This time the perpetrator cut a hole in the side of the building from the outside, right where the safe was located. According to the sheriff's report, between $3,000 and $5,000 was in the safe at the time. The case remains unsolved and is inactive pending further suspect information.
There are many unanswered questions concerning these two possible interrelated cases.
The embezzlement case was closed six months ago, yet when the Triplicate attempted to get access to the information in the report, they were refused access on three different occasions by the county counsel. Why? What authority did the county counsel have to embargo a report of an investigation by the sheriff's office?
Even the victim in the case, the Solid Waste Authority Board of Directors, were denied access to the report. Why?
According to a member of the board, four people had keys to the safe, yet only two of the four are listed as suspects. Why?
Why did the sheriff's office spend over two months trying to track down the bad checks going as far back as the year 2004 when the auditor had already concluded that the case was about embezzlement and not about bad checks?
Of the four people with safe access, none of them was interviewed by the sheriff's office regarding their access to the safe. Why?
Besides the money that was in the safe, what else was in there? Four people should have had an idea, yet not one of the four was asked that question by the sheriff's investigator. Why?
Why was this case ever closed in the first place without a complete investigation? I believe this case still has a lot of unanswered questions and should be reopened so that the public can get answers to what happened to their money. What do you think?
Here are the answers to the last edition's quiz for old-timers.
Who was second runner-up in the 1985 Del Norte Junior Miss contest?
What title did Ernie Perry hold in 1989?
Who was the Program Director of KCRE-AM in 1980?
Bob Berkowitz is a Crescent City resident and president of LifeStyles Research Company.