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IN THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE THIRD JUDICIAL CIRCUIT

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					           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.

                                          BACKGROUND

       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

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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

unclaimed property.

       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
                                        Page 3
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
                                          Page 5
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

accounts.

                               CONCLUSIONS AND OPINIONS

       The following are the conclusions and opinions of the Grand Jury with respect to
                                        Page 7
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
                              Page 9
     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.
                      Page 11
     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

     responsible.


                             Page 13
       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

August, 2010.



                                                   eli s      e ___
                                              /s/ M s a B. Bail y
                                              Foreperson


       Robert L. Jarvis, Jr.
       State Attorney for the Third Judicial Circuit

                 br      avi ____
       By: /s/ Ro et L. Jr s

				
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