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Friday, January 2, 2009

Evidence Missing Under Walker's Watch

LEWISTON, Minn. — Money, drugs and documents are missing from the Lewiston Police Department’s evidence locker; close to $50,000 sent to the city is unaccounted for; and a number of public records are missing from City Hall, acting Mayor Richard Ahrens said Wednesday.

Ahrens made the comments at the conclusion of his final city council meeting, saying that incoming council members should address the problems.
“I hope they get everything straightened out,” Ahrens said.

A new mayor and two new council members will be sworn in next week, but when contacted Wednesday afternoon, Mayor-elect David Sommer said he hadn’t been told about the problems.

Police discovered that items, including an undisclosed amount of drugs and “a couple thousand bucks,” were missing, after taking an inventory of the evidence locker shortly

after Dan Walker was hired as interim police chief Jan. 31, 2008, said Police Chief David Kleinschmidt.

The locker, which can be unlocked only with a key, is stored in the police chief’s office in City Hall, Kleinschmidt said.

Council members asked Walker to conduct the “in-depth” inventory after the city received a “very, very strongly written” letter from the Winona County Attorney’s Office expressing concerns about the locker, he said.

Ahrens confirmed the city received a letter from the county attorney’s office, but he could not recall the subject matter.

When Winona County Attorney Chuck MacLean was contacted at home, he said he investigated the missing evidence but will not comment on the investigation until he returns to the office Friday.

Police investigated the missing evidence and passed on information to the county attorney’s office, Kleinschmidt said.

Walker and Kleinschmidt instituted an evidence log shortly after their arrival, they said. The log documents what goes in and out of the evidence locker, as well as when the lockers is opened, by whom and for what reason, Kleinschmidt said.

“There’s supposed to be documentation,” he said.

Ahrens also described how nearly $50,000 given to the city by the fire department is unaccounted for. The money was supposed to be placed into a fund for a new fire department building, Councilman Jack Kanz said. No such fund was ever created, city officials said.

The problem was discovered during the city’s most recent audit, Ahrens said.

Kanz suspects the money was “misfunded” n that it simply got placed into another of the city’s accounts. With no documentation, Ahrens said he cannot be sure where the money is.

“If it’s there, fine,” he said. “If it’s not, I’d like to know about it.”

Many city records, including minutes and tapes from past council meetings, have also been taken or destroyed, said city administrator Barb Hampel. Ahrens reported that “almost all the records are gone” from 2005.

City officials have known about the missing records for some time, but they never determined who destroyed or took them and why, Ahrens said. Kanz said he suspects a past councilman told a former city administrator to destroy the records before they realized it was too soon to do so under state law.

In an unrelated incident, council members Wednesday approved placing a written reprimand for one year in the file of an employee who allegedly took confidential data from City Hall. The city brought in a third-party investigator to investigate the incident, the council said.

Lewiston’s acting mayor reports vanished documents, drugs and money

Anyone wanna bet on whether it was Jimmy or not?