NEW PORT RICHEY — The day after a 66-year-old woman was found dead in her New Port Richey home, a deputy returned to the scene and took the woman's wallet and checkbook. He told the landlord he wanted to safeguard the items so no one would take the woman's money or buy things in her name.
But he never entered the items into evidence, never mentioned them in the report on the woman's death in April. About two months later, when internal affairs detectives asked Deputy Jason Boria about the wallet and checkbook, he insisted he never took them.
Then the detectives asked to search his patrol car.
Boria began stuttering and shook his head 'no,' according to a Pasco County Sheriff's Office report released Thursday. Investigators had to remind him that the squad car was agency property before he gave up the keys.
"I feel like I should have some representation," he said, according to the report. "I'm starting to feel like I've done something wrong."
Inside the trunk, detectives found the checkbook and wallet, which was empty. They also found evidence that hadn't been submitted in other cases, including three traffic tickets, a memory stick with photographs from a domestic battery investigation, a prescription for Oxycodone and surveillance videos from three retail theft cases.
Boria also had 11 driver licenses and a state-issued ID card that were wrapped in a rubber band. Deputies often confiscate fake or expired licenses, but they are required to submit them as evidence.
Boria, 35, resigned from the Pasco County Sheriff's Office in August, amid an investigation into the woman's wallet and checkbook. He had been with the agency more than five years. He received an $8,559 payout of unused vacation time. The agency agreed not to challenge an application for unemployment compensation, though he has not filed one yet.
"A lot of times it's in the best interest of both the Sheriff's Office and the member to resign," said sheriff spokesman Kevin Doll.
A message left Thursday with Boria's attorney was not returned.
Boria was dispatched April 29 to the home of Claire Chandler, who had been battling cancer. She lived in rental in New Port Richey and had worked for Walmart 17 years. According to her landlord, Patricia Shotwell of Orange Park, Chandler had no family. She grew up in California as a foster child and left when she turned 18. She never married.
Neighbors noticed Chandler's car hadn't moved for several days. Her cell phone went straight to voice mail. Shotwell asked deputies to check on her. Chandler was found lying on her kitchen floor.
Boria filed a report on the death. Shotwell said the deputy returned the next day for the wallet and checkbook. He told her of a previous case where someone had bought a $7,000 car using a dead person's money and personal information.
Later, when Shotwell read the death investigation report, there was no mention of the wallet. "It gave me a really strange feeling," she said. So she reported her concerns to the Sheriff's Office.
In a series of interviews, investigators gave Boria "ample opportunity to explain the wallet and checkbook discrepancy," the Sheriff's Office report said. During one interview, he told detectives "there was no chance he could have forgotten he took the items in question."
Detectives found the items in a plastic box in the trunk of Boria's patrol car. There was no cash in the wallet, and Chandler's credit union confirmed there were no abnormal withdrawals from her account. Shotwell told detectives that Chandler tended to keep a "fair amount of cash" in her wallet, though she didn't look in it before giving it to Boria.
The report says after the items were found, Boria said he simply forgot to turn them in as evidence. He said he didn't want to admit his mistake and get in trouble.
"I took the checkbook because I didn't want it to get stolen," he said, according to the report. "I didn't want anyone to use it."
Doll said deputies usually remove prescription pills after a death investigation. They usually defer to family members regarding other items.
"Generally we don't take too much, or even anything," he said. "We want to turn it over to the family members as quick as possible, so they're responsible for it and not us."
Boria had been reprimanded in September 2010 for not processing evidence correctly. He was suspended for a day then. He received another one-day suspension back in November 2009 when the agency determined he violated the agency policies on conflicts of interest.
The agency referred the most recent issue to the Pasco-Pinellas State Attorney's Office to determine whether any criminal charges should be filed. But prosecutors determined in August there was "insufficient evidence of criminal intent."
The Sheriff's Office began writing its internal affairs report after prosecutors declined to move forward with the case. Such reports are not released to the public until they are completed. Doll said this report was delayed because the detective and his supervisor were on vacation at different times.
Lee Logan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6236.