State equipment stolen, damaged, and embezzled

February 9, 2012 3:04:12 PM PST
Ford pickup trucks worth as much as $16,500, new Chevy Impalas at $20,000 each, and a CAT skid loader worth $40,000. The ABC11 I-Team found a total of 10 state-owned vehicles valued at $163,000 all stolen.

"I think it raises some very serious concerns," offered NC state Rep. Nelson Dollar (R) Cary. "There are a host of things that should be very disconcerting to the public."

Dollar sits on North Carolina's House Appropriations Committee. We showed him the information we uncovered that shows state agencies losing track of the equipment they buy with public money.

"This is taxpayer money. It makes you wonder who's looking out for the taxpayer?" he said. "I think in a number of these instances there are questions about how did the property get gone."

And it's not just vehicles that are missing. The I-Team obtained computer data showing that in past five years, state agencies have lost $14,394,245 worth of equipment through theft, damage, misuse, or embezzlement.

The total dollar amount of that attributed to theft is $4.8 million.

Examples include:

  • $227,000 worth of copper wire from NC State University
  • 46 brand new Dell Latitude notebook computers worth more than $48,000 stolen from the Department of Health and Human Services
  • 33 handguns and a $1,500 high-powered SIG SAUER rifle worth a total of $15,200
  • 19 pieces of body armor worth $8,200

We asked Representative Dollar if state agencies doing enough to protect the equipment bought with taxpayer dollars.

"I think that's a good question and I think that all of the agencies and the universities need to review their procedures and they need to ensure that this equipment is not simply sliding out the door … without people being held accountable," he offered.

ABC11 also discovered piles of cash are vanishing.

  • The Department of Transportation reported three bank deposit bags and U.S. currency worth a total of $148,058 missing.
  • $20,255 in cash was also stolen from the Department of Health and Human Services
  • $11,479 was reported missing at UNC Chapel Hill

We went to retail loss prevention consultant Randall Benjamin - who helps private sector clients manage theft - to see what he recommended.

"I'd advise the state to analyze this information and identify the divisions and the departments that are responsible for the greatest losses. Then develop a system to monitor compliance and assign accountability as appropriate," said Benjamin.

Some of the things reported missing by state are downright puzzling.

It seems it has a hard time keeping track of tracking devices used on convicts sentenced to house arrest. 363 were reported missing - with a total value of $290,000.

We asked Rep. Dollar if he thinks state agencies should be penalized if they can't keep track of their equipment.

"I think we need to look at that issue," he said. "In some cases where people's negligence has caused the loss of equipment, they need to be held accountable for that."

We discovered other strange things on the list of stolen items:

  • Cheeseburger and fries - $8.00
  • Box of fried chicken - $25.00
  • Three sheep - $400
  • Human Asian male skull - $194
  • Saxophone - $5,000
  • Two Sony PlayStations
  • Wii
  • X-Box 360
  • Cocoa butter - $90
  • Newport Menthol cigarettes $450

Everything stolen on the list is considered a loss and the state pays for it twice.

"That's right," said Dollar. "I think sometimes people forget that the taxpayers have paid for these assets and those assets need to be guarded."

After seeing what the I-Team uncovered, Dollar promised action at the Legislature.

"We will be calling on the state agencies and universities to review their procedures to ensure the equipment that is bought with taxpayer funds is secured," he said.

The I-Team also discovered some fuzzy math. It's clear there's not a complete picture of the cost to taxpayers. Many items are listed in the database as being worth nothing. Others are undervalued - like a 32-inch flat screen TV valued at $49, a Dell laptop computer valued at $50, and a Sony PlayStation 2 valued at just $50.

State employees are required to report missing property to the State Bureau of Investigation. Local law enforcement agencies are supposed to investigate, but the SBI could not tell us how often thieves are actually caught.

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