The beleaguered Sunrise Police Department, which received national attention for its money-making cocaine-selling stings to out-of-towners, now has to explain this: How did nearly two grand come to be hidden in a computer keyboard tray inside the narcotics unit?
Found stashed away were thirteen $50 bills, sixty-one $20s, two $10s, one $5, and four $1s.
The total: $1,899.
It's unclear who the money belongs to or where it came from. Police say the incident is under criminal investigation. The discovery was made January 10, according to internal reports.
The head of the narcotics unit said that no current or former employee is believed to have mishandled or misappropriated the funds.
"It's not involving an employee," Criminal Investigations Division Capt. Robert Voss said in an interview.
Suspicion is centered on someone the department arrested in the past, Voss said. He would not elaborate except to say the office where the money was found had unoccupied desks that detectives occasionally used to "interview suspects, witnesses and/or informants."
Experts in law enforcement procedures interviewed by the Sun Sentinel, however, questioned how an outsider could gain access to a police narcotics office and be left unattended or unobserved by cameras or other surveillance.
"Maybe the narcotics unit is squeaky clean, but there is a problem there because somebody hid a bunch of money in a keyboard," said Naples police consultant William T. Gaut, a retired Alabama captain.
The suburban Broward County department attracted nationwide media attention last month after the Sun Sentinel exposed how the narcotics unit made millions of dollars in recent years luring faraway drug buyers into Sunrise with offers of cheap cocaine, then busting them and seizing their cars and money.
The deals often took place at family restaurants, such as TGI Fridays, around the city's major attraction, the sprawling Sawgrass Mills outlet mall.
Cops working the stings made considerable overtime and one informant in particular — a beautiful woman with Colombian ties — was paid more than $800,000 since 2008 for luring drug buyers to town, the newspaper reported.
Cash was plentiful.
The Sun Sentinel found that men from New York, New Jersey, Texas, and elsewhere outside the county came with tens of thousands of dollars, sometimes in bank envelopes, plastic bags, shoe boxes and cake boxes.
At the busts, court records show, the money typically was counted by a supervisor and brought to the police department, where it was placed into evidence and paperwork for forfeiture procedures completed.
It's not clear whether the $1,899 recovered in January was related to a major cocaine sting or some other drug case, or was missing from evidence.
The discovery had been rumored for months within the department, but officials would not confirm the incident to the Sun Sentinel and originally denied the newspaper access to any records about it.
Under Florida's open government law, however, the Sun Sentinel's attorney successfully pressed for the release of documents detailing the basic circumstances of the event.
The money was found in the Vice, Intelligence and Narcotics office at the Public Safety Building, at 10440 W. Oakland Park Blvd., according to a police property report filed in January, on the day of the discovery.
A more descriptive "incident/investigation" report was dated seven months later, Aug. 6, one day after the Sun Sentinel inquired in writing about the event.
The later report states that the money "appeared to have been hastily placed in the keyboard slide mechanism to avoid detection."
Voss said the money was found by a narcotics unit supervisor during routine office "inspection/cleaning," and all the necessary reports were completed at that time.
The cash was retrieved, counted, photographed by crime scene personnel, swabbed for DNA, and placed in a police department safe, the records state.
Sunrise's undercover cops did not routinely work out of the police headquarters but out of a rented office in a commercial strip center.
The denominations discovered hidden in the keyboard tray are typical in hand-to-hand drug purchases, such as the sale of dime bags of marijuana or small amounts of cocaine, said Randal Reep, a Jacksonville defense attorney who represents clients in drug trafficking cases, including Sunrise.
It's not unreasonable to think that a suspected drug dealer or a witness to a drug deal could have become spooked during a police interview and tried to ditch the cash they had on them, Reep said.
Former federal drug agent Richard Mangan, now a Florida Atlantic University criminology professor, however, said it would be unusual for an informant or suspect to be left alone in a narcotics office without anyone watching them.
And informants typically are searched for drugs or money immediately before and after a sting to ensure the integrity of the case, experts in police operations said.
Asked if an informant was trying to skim money from a controlled drug buy or sale, Voss would not say.
In its report in October, the Sun Sentinel revealed that the department has paid more than $1.2 million to 79 informants recruited by the city since 2007. Many other informants cooperated with the department in return for leniency in their own criminal cases.
Sunrise Mayor Mike Ryan, who has staunchly defended the police department's cocaine sting operations, said Thursday he was not familiar with the details of the found money and would not comment so long as the incident was under investigation.
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