Allegations Of Missing Money Plague Gila County Sheriff's Department


The Gila County Sheriff's Department is conducting three internal investigations into incidents involving more than $650 in missing inmate cash, and the disappearance of $1,600 posted as bond.

Three sums of cash ranging from $87.53 to $1,600 were reported missing from the department's Globe-Miami detention center between April and October of last year. Shortly after the last sum of money was reported missing in October, the detention centers in both Payson and Globe-Miami stopped accepting cash for bail bonds. Inmates must now secure money orders or cashier's checks to bail themselves out of the jail.

The first sum of money reported missing by an inmate has sparked a criminal investigation into one of the department's detention officers.

In a Nov. 19, 1999 memo to Sheriff Joe Rodriguez, Capt. William Blank reported that the cash -- totaling $87.53 -- was found in the possession of one of the department's detention officers four months after it should have been returned to the inmate.

Blank's memo, which was obtained by the Roundup through the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act, details a lengthy money trail that started April 15, 1999, when Mark Philip Snowder of Tucson was arrested in Mesa for burglary and other related charges.

Snowder's booking record form lists the personal property he had in his possession at the time of his arrest, which included $87.53 in cash.

According to reports compiled during the department's initial investigation, the following events transpired after Snowder's arrest.

Dirty money

The day after his arrest, when Snowder was to be transported from the Maricopa County Jail in Phoenix to the Globe detention facility, authorities determined that his cash was contaminated by blood, and on-duty personnel were warned that handling it could pose a health risk. The money was placed in a plastic bio-hazard bag and handed over to the detention officer, who is now under investigation.

From April 16 through July 1, Snowder remained in custody and was transported with his property between Payson and Globe for court appearances.

On June 30, Snowder entered a plea agreement, was fined and put on probation for one year. After he was released from custody in Payson July 1, an inmate worker in the Payson Jail found Snowder's money -- which was still in the bio-hazard bag -- in the trash. The inmate returned the money to detention authorities, and the money was returned to the Globe jail and again given to the detention officer who is now under investigation. The officer was instructed to contact Snowder's case worker in Tucson, count the money, and process the return.

Point of no return

Almost three months later, Sept. 26, Sgt. James Eskew found the bio-hazard bag containing Snowder's money in the detention officer's office. The detention officer was again instructed to return the money.

Eskew asked the detention officer Nov. 3 if Snowder's money had been returned, and the officer replied that he'd sent the money to the public fiduciary in Tucson three months earlier.

At that point, Sgt. Eskew returned to the detention officer's office and, once again, found Snowder's money. This time, however, "a large sum" was missing, Eskew reported.

"It was obvious that the money I first witnessed being in the envelope had been reduced a great deal," Sgt. Eskew wrote in a memo to Captain Blank Nov. 4.

The following day, the detention officer's superiors learned that the public fiduciary in Tucson hadn't received the money or any correspondence concerning it.

Settling accounts

In a Nov. 4 memo to Sheriff Rodriguez, Blank wrote, "Coupled with statements made by (the detention officer), I feel that a criminal investigation is warranted to include a complete audit of all inmate accounts."

In a second memo, Blank wrote, "It appears that the pivotal person in this allegation fabricated a story and failed to follow through on specific orders ... If the implications (are found to be) true, (the detention officer) would be in violation of (several) Gila County Merit System Rules and Policies ..."

Blank further recommended that an "investigation looking into criminal and civil rights issues be conducted to ensure all established federal and state statutes were not violated."

As of Monday, no charges had been filed against the detention officer, who is no longer employed at the Gila County jail. "He resigned and went to work at another facility," a department receptionist said.

Scaling the stonewall

The Roundup has been trying to unravel the details surrounding the disappearance of inmate cash and bond money since November of last year.

In January -- two months after Capt. Blank wrote his first memo to Rodriguez urging the sheriff to authorize a criminal investigation into one of the department's detention officers -- Blank told the Roundup that he knew of no current internal or external sheriff's department investigation involving missing inmate cash. "There is no story here," he said repeatedly.

Cash withholdings

More than two months earlier, however, a Payson woman who had $575 in her possession at the time of her arrest had been told that her money had been misplaced and the department was conducting an investigation.

Although Globe detention officers listed the money among Cindy Namath's possessions when she was arrested Oct. 12 in Globe-Miami for possession of marijuana, the money wasn't returned to her until three months later.

When Namath was released from the Globe-Miami Jail 32 days after her arrest, she was told her money had been misplaced, and the department would not replace it until it had concluded an internal investigation into the matter.

"How can they do this?" Namath said a month after her release and two months before the sheriff's department finally returned her $575. "How can they take your money and not give it back?"

In January, Blank confirmed that the department had in fact misplaced Namath's money, and did not intend to return it until the department fully investigated the disappearance.

The missing money could be the result of human error, criminal activity or Namath could have released the money to a third party for bond, Blank said.

"The internal investigation is being conducted by Sgt. Tommie Rasmussen," he said, "to determine where the money went, if we do in fact owe it to Ms. Namath, or if it's county money" due to probation fines incurred by Namath.

"We are not infallible," Blank said. "We make mistakes. Money has been lost or misplaced before. But until our investigation is complete, we can't just assume this money was lost."

Gila County Attorney Jerry DeRose said, however, that the department had no grounds to withhold Namath's money.

"If there is no question that money is owed to the woman, there is no reason not to give it back to her," he said during a January interview.

The sheriff's department finally returned Namath's money in mid-February, but Sheriff Rodriguez said Thursday the investigation is still ongoing.

Jan. 12, the Roundup requested copies of the department's investigation reports regarding Namath's missing cash under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act.

Although the department is required by law to respond within 10 working days, it did not. A month after the request was filed, the Roundup received Namath's arrest report, but no information regarding the department's investigation -- the sole reason cited for delaying the return of her money.

Meanwhile, the Roundup uncovered information regarding $1,600 in cash that vanished in May shortly after it was turned over to the sheriff's department as a bail bond.

A Payson man -- who asked that his name not be used in this story -- told the Roundup that he posted $1,600 cash as a bail bond for his brother-in-law one weekend in May last year. His brother-in-law went to court the following Monday, which is when the bond should have been returned.

Rodriguez confirmed that the money was lost, and the sheriff's department is investigating the matter.

In May, the man was told that his $1,600 had been sent to Maricopa County. He drove to Maricopa County, and was told the money was in Globe. He went to Globe, he said, and the money wasn't there, either. But, he said, he was told by someone in uniform that "(a Gila County) employee stole the money, and that's why there was a problem.

"I didn't have $1,600 cash in my pocket when my brother-in-law needed it for bail," the man said, "so I went around waking up a lot of people that I know and borrowed it here and there"

The man did not get his money from the Gila County Sheriff's Department until November -- six months later.

According to one local law official, who spoke under the condition of anonymity, the missing $1,600 bond prompted sheriff's officials to prohibit Payson and Globe detention officers from accepting cash for bail.

Sheriff's officials, maintain however, that the decision was made because cash doesn't come with a "built-in receipt," and could leave the department open to discrimination allegations because the department doesn't accept money from other countries.

"We don't take Canadian dollars," Blank said when he first announced the plan. "To be fair, we shouldn't take cash."

Missing reports

In addition to information regarding the Namath investigation, the Roundup formally requested Jan. 12 "all copies of any investigative reports relating to inmate cash -- turned over to the Gila County Sheriff's Department either as bond money or personal property -- which has also been lost, misplaced, stolen or (become) otherwise unrecoverable."

The department not only failed to provide information regarding the Namath investigation, but information regarding the investigation into the missing $1,600 bail money, as well.

When asked why that information had been omitted, Rodriguez said, "I don't know. I'll talk to Jerry DeRose, (who reviewed the documents before they were mailed to the Roundup) and find out for you."

When DeRose was asked why information regarding two of the department's internal investigations had been omitted, he said, "I asked (Sheriff Rodriguez) for all the documents relating to missing inmate funds, and I gave (the Roundup) everything I had. If the sheriff has those records, he should give them to (the Roundup). The bail bond, I've never heard about that. I think if I had evidence that somebody stole $1,600, I'd probably remember it."

Outside investigations

But Gila County District 1 Supervisor Ron Christensen said he's not content to wait for the results of the department's internal investigations.

Feb. 7, the day after an in-depth Arizona Republic article indicated that Chief Sheriff's Deputy Byron Mills repeatedly lied to the newspaper, Christensen called for an investigation into Mills' conduct and, for reasons unrelated to the Republic story, alleged misconduct by Sheriff's Sgt. Tom Rasmussen.

Within that same Arizona POST petition -- which also was sent to the Gila County Attorney's office and Investigative Research, Inc., of Phoenix -- Christensen additionally requested investigations into the missing cash that belonged to Namath and the man who'd posted the bail bond.

The results of those investigations should be released soon, Christensen said.

"I'm rather leery of internal investigations within the (sheriff's) department right now ... I don't see how you can investigate yourself in matters like these, so that's why I wrote those letters. Whatever report that came from an internal investigation would be suspect.

"I don't know why the public information delays are taking place, or why they sat on it," the supervisor said. "If the fabric of any law enforcement agency gets torn, that's really bad for the public trust. That is something I'm very concerned about."

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