Saying he was “alarmed” to learn that as much as $175,000 in cash could be missing from the police department’s evidence vault, Hollywood Assistant City Manager Frank Fernandez asked Friday for a full review and meeting with anyone who was aware of problems there.
Fernandez, who was hired in August, said although he had been briefed by outgoing Police Chief Chad Wagner, he was not aware of the extent of the problems in the evidence locker until he read The Miami Herald’s story about the missing money Friday.
“I think anybody would be alarmed with any amount missing — let alone that much,” said Fernandez, who oversees public safety for the city. “But there has been no confirmation,” he added.
The Broward state attorney’s office and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement have launched a criminal investigation into cash — estimates range from $125,000 to $175,000 — that went missing, although it’s not clear when. The FDLE investigation is focusing on a retired police sergeant who supervised the vault from 2006 until his retirement in April 2011.
The sergeant, John Nevins, told The Miami Herald on Friday that he never misplaced, stole or knew about a substantial amount of money missing during his tenure.
However, Nevins did say that about a year before he retired, he reported about $90 missing from a safe to his then-supervisor. He said he went to retrieve the money from the safe after it was requested in connection to a closed criminal case.
He was startled to find the cash had disappeared and asked his supervisors to conduct an audit. Sources said he and others scoured the vault but could find no evidence of the cash. To his knowledge, there was nothing else found missing before or since.
“I’m not hiding anything,’’ Nevins said.
The vault or locker, as it is sometimes called, is actually a group of several secured rooms in the station in which valuables and other evidence seized during a criminal investigation is stored. The evidence can include guns, money and forensic information.
In addition to Nevins, a civilian employee is also under scrutiny by the FDLE because he was seen helping Nevins remove boxes from the evidence area on Dec. 16, 2011.
Surveillance cameras captured Nevins removing the boxes, sources said.
Nevins said he did take some empty boxes — but they were from the supply room — not the evidence vault. The supply room is a storage area for office supplies and is separate from the evidence or property locker, which is secured.
“I have never taken anything out of the property vault,’’ he said. “I only took some empty boxes from the storage area.’’
The boxes, he said, were used to pack gifts for the needy.
Four city commissioners contacted by The Miami Herald said they were not informed about the investigation until Thursday night. City Manager Cathy Swanson-Rivenbark, Wagner and Fernandez had kept a lid on the probe so as to not jeopardize the case, they said.
“The investigation from what I understand has been going on for quite some time,” said Commissioner Linda Sherwood. “I know they are doing a very thorough investigation. I have confidence they will find the truth.”
Mayor Peter Bober, however, said he was aware of the probe before Thursday.