IG: NFTA police lost thousands of dollars of seized money

Western New York

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — According to the Offics of the New York State Inspector General, careless procedures and missing internal controls led to the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority (NFTA) Transit Police losing thousands of dollars in seized money.

According to a report issued Wednesday, $3,141 seized from two suspects during two separate arrests is missing.

In May 2018, NFTA police seized more than $2,000 from someone during an arrest. At the resolution of this person’s criminal case, the NFTA was unable to locate and return his money to him.

Because of this, the NFTA ended up paying him from their general funds. It was during the investigation of this that the state learned of other cases where seized money went missing or became entangled.

For example, roughly $1,100 and $1,300 were seized from two people after a traffic stop. Federal prosecutors worked with the NFTA after the arrests, since one of the individuals was suspected of running a sex trafficking operation in Buffalo.

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“When federal agents met with a detective who managed NFTA’s evidence room, the Transit Police chief advised the detective that he could not locate the seized funds in the Transit Police’s safe,” the Inspector General’s office said. “A review of this safe at the time revealed loose money and cash-filled evidence bags – both marked and unmarked. Even though the amount in one of the bags was $81.25 more than the amount seized, the chief directed the detective to give the federal agents the money and indicate that it was the suspect’s money – with additional ‘pocket change.'”

In a separate case, a person was arrested and more than $1,100 was seized and placed in an evidence bag. But when the case had concluded, those funds were missing.

“A Transit Police detective eventually surmised that as the amount of missing money seized from the second individual – $1,186 – was very close to that provided to the federal agents in the first prosecution – $1,186.25,” the Inspector General’s office wrote. “NFTA improperly gave the money seized from the second individual to federal agents. Without notifying NFTA’s executive director, the chief advised federal agents of the mix-up and sought a return of the money.”

The state says NFTA Transit Police “lacked specific written policies on the handling and safeguarding of seized and recovered money.”

This was the common practice regarding seized money, according to the Inspector General:

  • The arresting officer counted seized money in the booking room, monitored by video.
  • Money was then secured in an evidence bag with an evidence log form attached.
  • At the officer’s discretion, an identification sticker with a barcode would be attached.
  • The officer recorded evidence facts in Erie County Central Police Services’ case management database.
  • The evidence bag was then transferred to the arresting officer’s direct supervisor, who was responsible for turning it over to the captain in charge of evidence.
  • The captain was then responsible for transferring the evidence bag to the chief, who, sometime later, placed it in the currency safe, typically notifying the captain of the transaction.
  • The captain was then responsible for updating the case file in the database to note that the evidence had been placed in the safe.

The Inspector General’s office says the denominations and quantities of money seized were, often, not listed. And if the captain wasn’t present, the evidence bags would sometimes be placed on the captain’s desk.

“The captain’s office, while secured by a lock, could still be accessed by approximately 20 individuals with keys to the office,” the Inspector General’s office says. “The practice – never memorialized in writing – was also poorly enforced. Many police officers testified that arresting officers were able to take shortcuts with little fear of repercussion.”

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The NFTA Transit Police Chief told the Inspector General’s office “We had a lot of money in the safe, a mixture of cases and evidence and found property…The safe was a mess,” they said.

The Inspector General’s office says corrective actions are needed to make sure the NFTA Transit Police are in compliance with both state and national policing standards.

The NFTA has released a statement in response to the Inspector General’s report:

“We thank and appreciate the office of the New York Inspector General for accepting our referral, conducting the investigation and for recommending remediation consistent with measures already undertaken by the NFTA.  It’s important to point out, the report of the IG reveals no evidence concerning corruption, fraud, criminal activity, conflicts of interest, or abuse, but indicated that our written policies were not consistently followed. Any such mishandling of currency, no matter how infrequent or insignificant, is unacceptable.  When first brought to our attention, we recognized the shortcomings and revised our internal controls and began the process necessary for application for accreditation by the New York Law Enforcement Agency Accreditation Council to insure that such errors never occur again.”   

Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority (NFTA)

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Evan Anstey is an Associated Press Award and Emmy-nominated digital producer who has been part of the News 4 team since 2015. See more of his work here and follow him on Twitter.

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