Thefts from courts building detailed; probe continuing

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Pittsburgh Controller Michael Lamb said Friday that a theft of about $17,000 from a police office at the Municipal Courts Building highlights the need for better cash-management practices across city departments.

No arrests have been made in the theft, which Mr. Lamb said appears to have occurred over 18 months. He said a civilian employee at the police records room engineered a scheme for pocketing cash that people paid across the counter for police and accident reports.

He said the employee evidently prepared deposit slips reflecting cash payments and the checks that some people provided as payment. Mr. Lamb said the deposit slips were reviewed by a supervisor.

Later, Mr. Lamb said, the employee evidently kept the cash and substituted additional checks for the stolen money. Because deposit slips have separate lines for cash and checks, Mr. Lamb said, the employee may have amended the slips before making deposits.

He said the scheme required the employee to hold on to hundreds of checks for long periods. He said officials found about $60,000 in uncashed checks, of which $14,000 or so now may be too old to cash.

The employee has not been identified. Joanna Doven, spokeswoman for Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, said the employee, a cashier, has been fired.

"It's completely unacceptable that this happened, and we must take measures to make sure this never happens again," she said in an email.

Mike Manko, spokesman for the Allegheny County district attorney's office, said authorities were still gathering evidence and did not anticipate filing charges immediately.

Mr. Lamb, who before Christmas began auditing records room receipts at the request of the police bureau, said he will complete his report within 10 days. He said it will cite the need for new controls over cash transactions at various city departments -- such as requiring that cash-collecting, preparation of deposit slips and bank runs be handled by different employees of an office.

"That's probably the first and primary recommendation we're going to make," he said.

Mr. Lamb said some offices, such as building inspection, could establish draw-down accounts for frequent customers. He also suggested that departments begin accepting credit and debit cards.

In a statement Thursday, police bureau spokeswoman Diane Richard said the records office no longer accepts cash and will take only checks and money orders.

Cash-management problems have surfaced from time to time, Mr. Lamb said, recalling one occasion when a parks and recreation employee used cash receipts as a petty cash fund.

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Joe Smydo: jsmydo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1548. Moriah Balingit: mbalingit@post-gazette.com, 412-263-2533.


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