Money miscounted

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 24, 2002

The public report on the internal investigation into a missing portion of seized drug money claims a double miscount as the culprit.

The report by Demopolis Public Safety Director Jeff Manuel, which was released to The Demopolis Times at 5 p.m. on July 19, states that "the internal investigation into the possibility of missing confiscated money is complete."

The report gives a sequence of events.

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Permission was obtained, and the police canine alerted to the presence of narcotics in the rear of the vehicle.

Further checking revealed a large amount of currency bound by rubber bands in the tailgate of the vehicle. The driver and passengers denied any knowledge of the currency," the report said. "The currency was seized and hastily counted on the side of the road, placed in two evidence bags and sealed.

The driver, passengers and currency were taken to the police department. At the police department, Sergeant Tim Soronen opened the evidence bags and counted the money.

He came up with a total of $25,490.00," the report continued. "This total was not recounted by Soronen or verified by any other member of the police department.

There were other officers present during the count, but they did not witness the count.

The currency was photographed and then given to Chief (Charles) Avery who placed it in his office safe.

Chief Avery failed to count the currency before accepting it," Manuel said in his report.

After one of the clerks working at City hall finished waiting on customers, she (unnamed) assisted Taylor in the counting of the money. At this time the total was $23,000.00. This was a $2,490.00 difference in what was reported by Sgt. Soronen.

Public Safety Director Jeff Manuel was notified of the situation and briefly looked into the matter," the report said. "He later contacted the Federal Bureau of Investigation as an outside agency for assistance. Because of their other investigations, it would be at least two weeks before the FBI would arrive.

Manuel discussed the issue with a supervisor of the Alabama Bureau of Investigation but told him the FBI was going to investigate the matter. Manuel contacted the FBI again and was told the case would be turned over to another agent who would contact him.

After several weeks without any help from the FBI, the office of the Attorney General was contacted for assistance."

Editor’s Note: Joy Patterson, a spokesman for the Alabama Attorney General’s office said Thursday that her office had received a letter from Manuel in mid-June. She could not comment on the nature of the letter.

Those who had control of the money without the presence of a witness were examined. Tested were Sergeant Tim Soronen, Chief Charles Avery, City Clerk Vickie Taylor and Account Payable Clerk Denise Barton. All passed the polygraph examination showing no deception to the questions asked concerning the money.

Special Agent George Barrows with the office of the Attorney General came to Demopolis on Wednesday, July 10, 2002, to investigate per Manuel’s request. After reviewing the internal case file, it was determined that $23,000.00 was seized by Demopolis Police officers, and Police Chief Charles Avery turned in $23,000.00 to city hall.

Based on the field notes written by one of the officers at the scene, agent Barrows was able to confirm that Manuel was correct in his investigation," the report said.