“It’s a very serious allegation,” said Bober. “I absolutely support the decision to hand it over to an outside agency and assume that FDLE will do a thorough investigation and release their findings.”
Sources close to the investigation said FDLE was only recently brought into the case, although problems with the evidence room were noted by then-Chief Wagner months ago. State investigators have already been to Hollywood to collect evidence, according to sources.
Nevins said the evidence locker was “a complete mess” when he took it over more than five years ago, and several other sources confirmed that there have been problems with the integrity of the operation for many years, largely because the city’s personnel cutbacks have led to less oversight.
Jeff Marano, head of Broward’s police union, said he doesn’t believe Nevins committed any wrongdoing. The department’s evidence room, he said, is like a game of “musical chairs,” with frequent turnover in recent years. “The music stopped and [Nevins] was standing there.”
As the city issued layoffs over the past couple lean of years, civilian employees who had more seniority bumped those with less seniority, resulting in people being placed in jobs where they were not qualified, Marano said.
Even so, employees, civilians and even police officers are not permitted in the evidence area without permission and they must be buzzed in and sign a log, according to police department procedure. All evidence is scanned and inventoried and then inputted into a computer.
Today, cash is deposited into pouches, labeled and placed into locked safes. That wasn’t the case five years ago, sources said, when cash was just piled on shelves in plastic pouches in plain view.
Fernandez said he was aware there had been some recent changes made, such as locker codes changed in September, but he was now looking into why the changes were made.
He also expressed concern that problems with the evidence rooms dated back years and the department was aware of the issues, but he had not been properly briefed.
In a letter to Interim Police Chief Vince Affanato on Friday, Fernandez wrote: “I would like for you to put together a meeting with those individuals in the department and the city who can provide me with a complete review of the historical issues related to the property unit.”
He added that he wanted to see any memos not part of the FDLE investigation that relate to the evidence locker issues and requested an update on the financial audit the police department is currently undergoing.
“I want to have complete situational awareness and clarity so that we can take the appropriate corrective measures,’’ he wrote.
Neither Affanato nor Wagner returned repeated phone calls in connection with this story.