February 14, 2004 - Daytona Beach News-Journal (FL)
Investigators Say Drugs Seized, Sold, Seized Again
By Kristen Moczynski, Staff Writer
DELAND -- Volusia County sheriff's investigators seized bricks of marijuana during several drug busts.
Then they seized the marijuana again.
It's the first time Florida law enforcement officials have investigated a case where seized drugs were put back on the street, they say.
Sheriff's officials learned during the criminal investigation into the theft of half a million dollars' worth of drugs from their evidence compound that they seized the same narcotics more than once.
How many times it may have happened isn't known. But the situation was already turning up before the evidence compound bust in an April investigation into an Oak Hill home growing operation. Investigators "hadn't quite connected the dots yet," spokesman Gary Davidson said.
Nearly 900 grams of cocaine and 370 pounds of marijuana were stolen from the sheriff's evidence compound by an employee, Sheriff Ben Johnson said. Former evidence manager Timothy W. Wallace, 47, New Smyrna Beach, was arrested Wednesday and charged with conspiracy to traffic in cocaine and conspiracy to traffic in marijuana. He is being held in the Volusia County Branch Jail on $300,000 bail.
The theft was discovered last month when a discrepancy in the weight of seized cocaine was brought to light in a narcotics trafficking case. But Davidson said officials were on the verge of finding the theft through another investigation.
In April, narcotics agents seized 151 marijuana plants and 12 pounds of cultivated marijuana from a trailer in Oak Hill. The packaged marijuana was separated into one-pound bags.
During that investigation, agents determined Daniel Sturtevant was running the indoor growing operation. They used Sturtevant as a confidential informant to purchase drugs and his sources led back to Wallace, an arrest affidavit states.
Sturtevant purchased marijuana and cocaine from Thomas Belmonte, the affidavit states. Belmonte later told agents he received the drugs from Leonard W. Southard, who got them from an "evidence guy" Southard raced cars with.
Sturtevant was charged with possession of marijuana. Belmonte and Southard have not been charged for their involvement with Wallace, but FDLE officials said they might face charges.
Southard and Wallace have known each other for years through the New Smyrna Speedway.
According to the affidavit, Wallace distributed the seized narcotics off and on during an 18-month period. But the theft wasn't noticed during periodic spot inspections at the evidence compound.
"Spot inspection means just that. You don't physically inspect every piece of evidence. You spot check a certain number of cases to satisfy yourself," Davidson said.
Gary Frazee, director of professional standards, said sealed packages were not opened during spot inspections, and officers would check to make sure the packages were stored in the proper area.
He said the thief knew how the inspections were conducted and could take narcotics out of sealed packages and reseal them. Frazee said the office has changed the way it inspects the narcotics and now opens packages.
Florida Department of Law Enforcement spokesman Geo Morales said this is the first case he is aware of in Florida where seized drugs were stolen from an evidence facility and then redistributed on the street. He said agents did not know of any other cases where the same drugs were seized twice.
Davidson said sheriff's investigators are not sure whether they have re-seized drugs in other cases, adding: "It's disgraceful to think that the actions of one rogue employee caused our investigators to risk their lives seizing dangerous narcotics that had already been taken off the street before."
For the latest drug war news, visit our friends and allies below
We are careful not to duplicate the efforts of other organizations, and as a grassroots coalition of prisoners and social reformers, our resources (time and money) are limited. The vast expertise and scope of the various drug reform organizations will enable you to stay informed on the ever-changing many-faceted aspects of the movement. Our colleagues in reform, they also give the latest drug war news. Please check their websites often.