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Monday, October 6, 2008

Prosecutorial Meltdown: Who's Watching those in Charge?

Soares, Conners at odds over 'stolen' cash
The Albany Times Union by ROBERT GAVIN - October 6, 2008

ALBANY -- A county audit of District Attorney David Soares' office released Monday revealed $6,195 missing from an evidence safe, prompting the prosecutor to call for the hiring of a "forensic auditor." The long-awaited fiscal study -- first reported last month by the Times Union -- came amid a war of words between Soares and County Comptroller Michael Conners. Conners expressed "grave concern" over the cash disappearance at an afternoon news conference, noting it happened under the district attorneys watch. "As you can see, this is a pretty serious audit," Conners told reporters. "Evidence was tampered with and money was stolen." In turn, Soares said he has seen three different amounts of money listed for the money in the evidence safe. He said he will call in a forensic auditor or expert to study the situation. He did not question all of Conners audit, but made it clear he saw the study as flawed.

"He arrives at legal conclusions that he is not qualified to make with respect to evidence," Soares said during an interview in his fourth-floor office in the district attorney's office. Conners also audited the DAs office petty cash account earlier this year and has another on the way into his offices expenditures. Soares said he expects "several more audits between now and November." The audit comes on the eve of a debate between Conners and Roger Cusick, a Republican running on the GOP-hatched Integrity Party.

Two Albany politicians who back Soares, County Legislator Lucille McKnight and and Common Council president Shawn Morris, released statements this afternoon saying the audits timing indicates it is politically motivated. Conners defended such allegations at his news conference, saying the audit was deemed necessary by his scathing review of Soares petty cash account in May. "This would never have happened if they hadnt screwed up that petty cash account so abysmally," Conners said, saying the DAs office would not have been dealing with the issues had it addressed the problems earlier. The missing money issue arose when auditors inspected $65,000 in cash, seized in criminal cases dating back years, kept in a safe in the DA's office. The existence of the funds was announced in 2005 at a press conference held by Soares and then-state Comptroller Alan Hevesi.

When Conners auditors reviewed the funds starting in July, they found six evidence bags missing, according to the audit. The study also found more than $17,232 in State Police seizure money dating to 1979. Conners audit said he met with Soares on Sept. 2, discussed the missing money and possible criminal matters and that Soares agreed to contact the State Police. But by Sept. 11, Conners audit said, Soares had not done so. "Have you found the missing money and missing evidence bags?" Conners wrote the district attorney in an e-mail Saturday. Conners gave Soares a 5 p.m. deadline to respond Saturday.

Among other allegations in the audit:

-- Beginning during the tenure of Soares predecessor, Paul Clyne, the office spent more than $62,155 in forfeiture funds on 20 parking spaces for employees.

-- Soares office spent more than $12,000 on T-shirts for his Enough! campaign, an anti-gun violence program, including $750 on the design of the shirt.

-- He spent more than $6,000 on other T-shirts for night watches or programs such as the offices Bring it to the Courts basketball options for youths.

-- The office used $7,297 in forfeited money on flashlights, whistles and tote bags, $45 for a parking ticket and late fee, $85 on a pizza party and $650 on a 2007 Christmas party.

The audit said Soares office is in "desperate need of a fiscal officer familiar with accounting principles and Albany County financial procedures." Soares noted that he already hired a team of fiscal experts to review the offices finances. As he spoke, he had T-shirts, flashlights and whistles on his desk. The T-shirts alone, he explained, have tip-line information for residents to call.

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See Video of Senator John L. Sampson's 1st Hearing on Court 'Ethics' Corruption

The first hearing, held in Albany on June 8, 2009 hearing is on two videos:

               Video of 1st Hearing on Court 'Ethics' Corruption
               The June 8, 2009 hearing is on two videos:
               CLICK HERE TO SEE Part 1
               CLICK HERE TO SEE Part 2