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Hazy billing, bail theft plague jail // BAIL STOLEN

Published Jul. 6, 2006

Bail money totaling $1,763 was stolen last fall from a gray steel locked box at the Hernando County Jail.

The 35-pound box in the jail's main control room was hit four times in four weeks. Bail money from four inmates was taken.

During that time, dozens of corrections officers and sheriff's deputies had access to the box. But only 19 employees of Corrections Corporation of America, the company that operates the jail for the county, had work hours that coincided with each period in which money was taken.

Sheriff's detectives tested the jail employees with a computer voice-stress analyzer; many of the employees were tested more than once, sheriff's spokeswoman Deanna Dammer said. A report of the investigation showed two workers exhibited "some type of deception in the results of this test."

"There has been no conclusive evidence that either of these two individuals have committed these crimes; however, there is no conclusive evidence that they did not," sheriff's Detective T.

A. Bammert said in his report.

Bammert put the investigation on inactive status Jan. 22. Dammer said Friday the investigation had been reactivated because additional information had been received.

The first theft was discovered when employees of the Clerk of Court's Office found no bail money had been deposited for a prisoner who claimed he paid $500.

At the time of the thefts, bail was paid to deputies at the jail. The deputy logged the money, gave the payer a receipt, then put the money and a copy of the receipt into an envelope and dropped the envelope into a slot in the locked steel box. The box would be emptied days later by a deputy, who brought the envelopes to the clerk's office. Together, the deputy and clerk's employees counted the money and reconciled the inmate information.

The initial alarm was raised over $500 paid between Oct. 27 and Nov. 6. As investigators tracked down that theft, they found three more _ in the amounts of $500, $513 and $250, all paid between Oct. 23 and Nov. 27.

Clerk of Court Karen Nicolai said the sheriff's insurance would reimburse the county for the missing bail money. She said her office had never done an internal audit of bail money. But, she said, if any other inmate money is missing, it will become apparent before the inmate's case has worked its way through court.

"Sooner or later, we're always going to know if a cash bond is missing, because, when we are preparing a docket we look into it and if (the arrested people) are convicted, their costs and fine comes out of their bond. If they're not convicted, they'd want their bond money back. At that point, we would find it," she said.

She said that until the recent thefts, there has never been a problem with missing bail money.

Nicolai and Dammer said the procedure for logging and delivering bail money has been changed since the discovery of the missing money.

Dammer said the cash box has been bolted down at the jail. Deputies now empty the box and deliver the money daily.

Receipts are logged in sequential order.

"That was one of the problems in the past because voided receipts were not logged," Dammer said.

The receipt number now matches the envelope number and the log, she said.