IN THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE THIRD JUDICIAL CIRCUIT
IN AND FOR COLUMBIA COUNTY, FLORIDA
IN RE: COLUMBIA COUNTY GRAND ) CASE NO. 2010-1
JURY SPECIAL INVESTIGATION
PRESENTMENT OF THE GRAND JURY
INVESTIGATION INTO THEFT OF CASH MONEY FROM THE COLUMBIA
COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE
The 2010 Spring Term of the Columbia County, Florida, Grand Jury has
conducted an investigation into allegations of theft of money from the Columbia County
Sheriff’s Office. This Presentment and Report, together with the accompanying
indictment, is the conclusion of the investigation.
Columbia County is a mid-size county in north central Florida. The County seat is
Lake City. Primary law enforcement functions and services are provided by the Columbia
County Sheriff’s Office. The elected Sheriff is the head of the office and ultimately
responsible for operation of the office. Constitution of the State of Florida, Article VIII,
Section 1 (d). During the focus of the Grand Jury Investigation three Sheriffs were in
office. Sheriff Frank Owens held office from January 1997 through January 2005. Sheriff
Bill Gootee held office from January 2005 through January 2009. Sheriff Mark Hunter
held office from January 2009 through the present date.
In late March and early April, 2010, information came to the attention of
employees of the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office (hereinafter “CCSO”) that irregular
activity has occurred with money taken from the control of the evidence custodian. These
irregular activities resulted in a criminal investigation of then CCSO employee Pamela
Foxx. Detective J.T. Williams of the CCSO presented a sworn criminal complaint to the
Circuit Court which issued an arrest warrant for Ms. Foxx on a charge of Grand Theft I.
Thereafter, beginning in late May, 2010, the Grand Jury began an investigation
into this matter. The Grand Jury has heard from all of the substantial witnesses who have
knowledge of the facts. The Grand Jury has also heard testimony from a Special Agent of
the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) who investigated the allegations.
Because of the volume of documents and the complexity of the financial transactions, the
Grand Jury found it necessary to retain the services of a forensic auditor who had special
experience and expertise in fraud investigations involving local governmental agencies.
The Grand Jury retained the services of Mr. Michael Sibley, CPA, of the firm James
Moore & Co., CPAs. Mr. Sibley is a certified fraud examiner (CFE). The Grand Jury also
heard testimony from the lawyers who work in or for the CCSO in matters involving the
seizure and forfeiture of cash money.
Upon consideration of all of the testimony, documents, reports, instructions on the
law and other matters, the Grand Jury makes the following narrative, findings,
conclusions and opinions.
NARATIVE AND FINDING
In the course of their work in the investigation of crimes, Deputies of the CCSO
find cash money and other property which has been used in the commission of a crime or
is the product of a felony. This money or other property is often seized by the Deputies or
other law enforcement officers working in conjunction with the CCSO. Routinely, the
money is counted, placed in evidence bags or envelopes and placed with the CCSO
Evidence Custodian. During the administration of Sheriff Owens, an in-house attorney
was employed for the purpose of advising and representing the CCSO on seizures and
forfeiture proceedings under the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act (FCFA), Florida
Statute 932.701 through 932.706. Sometimes money and other property is seized or
collected, for safe keeping or other reasons, such as use for evidence or as abandoned or
The act of seizing money or other property, such as a motor vehicle, requires the
CCSO to give notice to the owner or claimants of the property the fact that the property
was seized and an opportunity for them to request an adversarial preliminary hearing in
Court. Florida Statutes 932.703(2). This function was accomplished at the time of seizure
by the seizing deputy providing a written document to the person in possession advising
him or her of the seizure and of their right to request the preliminary hearing. In other
cases, reports went to the legal department of the CCSO where the notice was mailed out
and the case was reviewed.
Working with the in-house attorney was Ms. Foxx. She had attended classes and
became a paralegal or legal assistant. She was designated “Legal Assistant” by Sheriff
Owens on August 19, 2003. At that time she worked under the supervision of the in-
house attorney at the CCSO. The Florida Supreme Court Rules Regulating the Florida
Bar provide a definition of “Legal Assistant”. Rule 10-2.1 (b) defines a legal assistant as
“a person qualified by education, training or work experience, who works under the
supervision of a member of the Florida Bar and who performs specifically delegated
substantive legal work for which a member of the Florida Bar is responsible”. It appears
that Ms. Foxx was in compliance with this rule when working under the supervision of
the in-house attorney.
On June 24, 2004 the in-house attorney left the employment of the CCSO. The
CCSO did not hire new in-house counsel, but, instead, retained the services of an
experienced lawyer in Tallahassee to provide legal services on contract. Ms. Foxx
continued her employment with the CCSO and continued to be considered the “Legal
Assistant” for the CCSO in handling legal matters for the department and in
communicating with outside retained legal counsel.
During the tenure of the in-house counsel, the attorney made decisions on which
cases would proceed to Court forfeiture proceedings and which cases would be settled
with either an agreement with claimants of the property or return of the property to the
proper owner. After the departure of in-house counsel, Ms. Foxx apparently made
decisions on the disposition of seized property in many cases, particularly in the cases
involving smaller amounts of U.S. currency. In addition to State court proceedings under
the FCFA, the CCSO could ask the Federal Government, usually the DEA, to assist in
forfeiture proceedings under the Federal statutes. These were cases involving substantial
amounts of money. Ms. Foxx did consult with outside retained legal counsel on some
matters. There was little direct supervision of Ms. Foxx’s activity on these smaller
denomination cases by the Sheriff or upper management in the CCSO.
Also during the tenure of in-house counsel, once a decision had been made on the
disposition of funds held by the evidence custodian, direction was given by the lawyer to
the evidence custodian to turn the cash money over to the CCSO Comptroller for deposit
into a bank account for either forfeiture of the money or return to the claimants. This
process left a clear audit trail of the funds.
After the departure of in-house counsel, Ms. Foxx began to personally visit the
evidence custodian and take out cash money from the evidence custodian under her own
signature. Ms. Foxx would simply mark on the property receipt that she received the
funds with a short notation of “forfeiture” or some other notation. No other
documentation was required to allow her to remove this cash money from the evidence
vault. The Grand Jury has determined that at some point, Ms. Foxx stole some of this
money and converted it to her own use.
In addition to her theft of cash from the custody of the evidence custodian, the
Grand Jury has determined that Ms. Foxx also stole money collected from claimants
paying for return of their seized motor vehicle. The process at the CCSO provided that
when a Deputy found evidence to allow for the seizure of a motor vehicle, the vehicle
would be impounded and towed or driven to the CCSO impound lot. Thereafter, if a
decision was made not to forfeit the vehicle, the owner would be allowed to reclaim the
vehicle upon payment of towing and/or administrative fees. These costs usually were
approximately $350.00, later raised to $500.00. The claimants would pay these costs with
cash money. The cash money was collected by Ms. Foxx, however on many occasions
she simply kept the money herself and did not properly turn the money over to the CCSO
financial office for deposit the funds into CCSO bank accounts.
The Grand Jury has determined that the first event where Ms. Foxx took money
from the CCSO without explainable documentation is November 2, 2004 with the receipt
of money for a returned vehicle. The earliest taking of cash money from the evidence
custodian with undocumented disposition of those funds is November 8, 2004. The Grand
Jury has determined that the total unexplained removal of money from the evidence
custodian by Ms. Foxx is $247,735.20. The total unexplained receipt of money from
claimant’s fees where vehicles were returned is $30,027.00. The total money taken
attributable to Ms. Foxx is $277,762.20. Not all of this money was taken and
permanently kept by Ms. Foxx. It is apparent that some of the cash money was returned
to cover claims. Ms. Foxx did not keep accurate records of the money she removed and
the money she converted to her own use. The records of the Columbia County Sheriff’s
Office do not provide answers to all of the questions regarding these funds. We have
determined that Ms. Foxx was engaged in 159 instances where she signed out money to
forfeiture, return to owner, bank or other notation, but that no documents or subsequent
deposit supported the ultimate disposition of the funds. There are additional sums of
money removed by Ms. Foxx or others that the records do not explain. We find that Ms.
Foxx’s personal bank account shows $105,185.14 in unexplained cash deposits. In a
sworn interview on July 9, 2010, Ms. Foxx admitted to taking an estimated $50,000.00 to
$60,000.00 from the CCSO. While the exact amount of money permanently taken by Ms.
Foxx for her personal use may never be known, the Florida theft statute, Florida Statute
812.014, provides that whoever knowingly obtains or uses, or endeavors to obtain or use
the property of another to either temporarily or permanently appropriate the property to
his or her own use is guilty of theft. (emphasis added) We believe there is ample evidence
to support the conclusion that Ms. Foxx stole in excess of $100,000.00 from the CCSO.
Eventually, two cases wherein claimants had repeatedly made efforts to have their
funds returned to them made contact with the CCSO Comptroller. The Comptroller
became concerned when she learned the money of the claimants had been removed from
evidence several months before by Ms. Foxx. Ms. Foxx was confronted with these
matters and given 24 hours to produce the funds. Ms. Foxx failed to explain the
discrepancy, so Sheriff Hunter directed a formal investigation. Ms. Foxx was put on
administrative leave. Investigators from the CCSO uncovered the ongoing theft scheme
and confronted Ms. Foxx in an interview on April 15, 2010. During this interview, after
first denying she had committed the thefts, she later admitted her involvement.
Thereafter Sheriff Hunter asked for assistance from the FDLE. An arrest warrant
was obtained and Ms. Foxx was arrested on the warrant for Grand Theft I.
The Grand Jury began its investigation of this matter in May, 2010. The Grand
Jury determined at the outset that it would be necessary to obtain the expert witness
services of a Certified Public Accountant with no ties to any of the parties involved and
who had experience in local government fraud investigations. The Grand Jury retained
the services of Mr. Michael Sibley, CPA, of James Moore & Co., who has conducted an
independent investigation and review of this matter for the Grand Jury.
During the course of Mr. Sibley’s investigation he discovered evidence that $16,
723.59 was removed from the evidence custodian and given to CCSO Comptroller Kelly
Crews. These funds were in bundles of six separate withdrawals and accompanying lists
of the cases numbers and amounts. The money should have been deposited into bank
accounts. There is no record that these funds were deposited into the CCSO forfeiture
CONCLUSIONS AND OPINIONS
The following are the conclusions and opinions of the Grand Jury with respect to
this matter. In any case where wrong doing has occurred, it is much easier to look back
and see what should have been done then it is to look forward to predict the future.
Nonetheless, we feel there were failures of policy and the implementation of policy
together with missed opportunities to discover the thefts which should have been detected
much sooner. Any system which allows an employee to personally receive cash and to
steal this cash, in an ongoing commission of many individual thefts, for almost six years
without detection, is a flawed system.
We recognize that the responsibility for criminal behavior is with the criminal
who committed the act. Nothing in this report lessens the responsibility of Ms. Foxx for
the acts she has done. Further, we find that she acted alone in her thefts of money from
the CCSO. While we make criticism below of some of the policies and practices of the
CCSO, we recognize the fine, honest hard work of the other employees of the Sheriff’s
Office. These dedicated law enforcement officers, civilian employees and volunteers
deserve the full support of the community and the fact that one dishonest employee took
advantage of some lapses in the system does not in any way diminish the honor and
integrity of others in the Sheriff’s Office.
1. We believe the CCSO accounting system was fundamentally flawed by
not having a systematic, ongoing means of keeping track of cash money
seized and monitored through conclusion of forfeiture proceedings or
return to claimants. The system was further flawed by not having a
means of tracking and accounting for funds received from reclaimed
vehicles. It is fundamental that the collection and safe keeping of money
should have an accounting system that keeps track of the money. The
Sheriff’s Office is a unit of local government. It receives and disburses
many millions of dollars annually. There is an accounting system for
these operational funds, but this system did not include keeping track of
seized cash money or money received from claimants who recovered
their vehicles. We urge the Sheriff to implement a system of accounting
for the cash money seized which fully and timely tracks these funds.
The system should meet generally accepted accounting standards for
local governments. We understand the Sheriff is now in the process of
implementing such an accounting system.
2. We believe that the Sheriff must have in place a competent, reliable,
experienced attorney to represent the CCSO in forfeiture proceedings.
There are practical and budgetary considerations as to whether the
attorney should be in-house or contracted. It is clear from the evidence
we received that the contact attorney in Tallahassee was not in a
position to provide the day to day counsel and representation needed in
these complex forfeiture proceedings. He said as much. Further, a legal
assistant is not an attorney. A legal assistant cannot practice law,
represent the Sheriff in Court nor give legal advice. A legal assistant
must be supervised by a licensed attorney. The contract attorney in
Tallahassee did not supervise Ms. Foxx when she was a legal assistant.
Allowing Ms. Foxx to function as a legal assistant without immediate
supervision by an attorney not only violated the law but permitted her to
engage in activities which damaged the Sheriff’s Office, denied
claimant’s rights to return of their property as well as defeated a check
on her access to seized cash money.
3. We believe there was a failure to follow existing procedures at the
CCSO. Specifically, CCSO Policy Section 4256.50, provided for there
to be a list of outstanding seizure cases which were to be reviewed by
the patrol and investigative commanders. This policy was not followed.
Had there been timely review of the list, it is likely that the thefts either
would not have occurred or would have been discovered much sooner.
Other policies dealt with keeping funds in a vault or deposit in a bank
account. The policies were either unclear, not comprehensive or were
not followed. Any policy or procedure, by itself, does not insure that
things will be done “by the book”. There must be a culture within the
agency or department that the policies are known, that there is a reason
for the policy and that it is workable. We recommend to the Sheriff that
he implement policies that meet these criteria and are understood,
accepted and followed by staff. Further, we recommend that at initial
hiring and annually thereafter employees receive training on CCSO
policy and procedure.
4. We believe there were a number of incidents or occasions which could
have tipped off the ongoing theft by Ms. Foxx. Ms. Foxx had a personal
bankruptcy in 1999. Ms. Foxx had two final judgments for money
damages entered against her in January and March of 2005. In October
of 2006 Ms. Foxx wages were garnished for failure to pay an education
loan debt. Management of the CCSO was advised of this or should have
known. While a garnishment per se is not an indication of theft, a
reasonable manager who is supervising an employee who has access to
cash should be put on notice to at least make some check as to the
financial status of the employee. Also, there seems to have been little
follow up by seizing Deputies. The Drug Task Force made a number of
significant cash seizures, yet little effort was made to check on the
ultimate disposition of the funds. There were a number of cases where
calls were made to CCSO employees regarding payment of seized
money which should have raised questions. For example in the case of
money seized from Mr. Paul Bell, CCSO Case No. 2009-010052,
$430.00 was seized from Mr. Bell on 2/26/09. Ms. Foxx took the money
from evidence on 3/20/2009. The State Attorney sent a letter to
Evidence Custodian on 8/4/2009 stating that a no information had been
filed in the criminal case and to release the money to the Parole and
Probation office. Nothing was done. A hand written note appears in the
records dated 9/14/2009 saying call a telephone number of the Parole
and Probation office, they want the money. Nothing was done. The
letter from the State Attorney’s office was faxed (again) on 11/20/2009.
Finally on 3/26/2010 Ms. Foxx brought in cash to the Comptroller who
issued a check that day to send to Parole and Probation. We believe
there were red flags that indicated possible problems with the system of
cash held by the CCSO. These red flags were either not seen or ignored.
It appears there was an attitude or culture in the CCSO to not raise
questions. The evidence indicates that Ms. Foxx was respected and
trusted by fellow employees. Yet, there was no verification procedure in
place to see first that she had authority to remove cash from the
evidence custodian nor that she in fact deposited forfeited funds in the
bank. The old adage, “trust but verify” comes to mind. We recommend
to the Sheriff that decisions regarding the handling of cash or other
valuable property be done by employees that are trusted and that a
verification process or system be in place. We recommend that the
Sheriff seek to have a culture within the CCSO where employees feel
free and, indeed, feel it is their duty, to report to the appropriate party
concerns they have regarding possible theft or improper behavior. There
may be some who are reluctant to speak out for fear of retribution,
therefore there should be a system in place to allow for anonymous
reporting of employee concerns. This system may be even better if it
were County wide. We recommend the Sheriff consider joining with the
Board of County Commissioner to consider having a “hot line”,
“whistle blower” or other tip reporting system whereby any County
employee could anonymously report suspicious events concerning
criminal behavior by County employees.
5. We find that in addition to lack of supervision by an attorney, Ms. Foxx
was not adequately supervised by management of the CCSO. The
Grand Jury has reviewed the organizational charts for the CCSO during
the years in question. We have also heard testimony of senior
management of the CCSO. It is unclear who was supervising Ms. Foxx
during much of her tenure, particularly after the departure of in-house
counsel. While ultimately the Sheriff is responsible for his employees,
those with direct lines of authority over Ms. Foxx either failed to
adequately supervise her activity or were themselves not aware of who
should be supervising Ms. Foxx. We recommend that the Sheriff have
clear lines of authority over every employee, that the supervisors know
who they are supervising and know what is expected in terms of their
review of an employees actions.
6. We find that there was no outside audit of the cash accounting system or
records of cash money seized by the CCSO and held in evidence. One
reason that the outside auditor did not audit the cash money seized by
the CCSO during the time period of Ms. Foxx thefts, is that there were
inadequate records and there really was no system of accounting of
those funds. We recommend to the Sheriff that an auditable system of
accounting be instituted for the cash money held by the Sheriff and that
this system be incorporated into the finance office of the CCSO. A clear
understanding should be had with respect to the role and scope of the
outside auditor. We recommend that the Sheriff have the outside auditor
conduct an audit on any cash money held by or for which the CCSO is
Finally and in conclusion, we wish to thank the Sheriffs who are named in this
report for their cooperation in this investigation. We also wish to thank the several
deputies, investigators and other personnel of the CCSO and the other witnesses who
fully cooperated with us and made a good faith effort to get the facts of this matter to us.
It is only through their positive desire to speak the truth on these issues that we were able
to timely complete our work.
This report and presentation is respectfully submitted to the Court, the local
government officials and to the Citizens of Columbia County, Florida, this _19th_ day of
eli s e ___
/s/ M s a B. Bail y
Robert L. Jarvis, Jr.
State Attorney for the Third Judicial Circuit
br avi ____
By: /s/ Ro et L. Jr s