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Pittsburgh police investigating theft of $17,000 from records room

| Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013, 4:08 p.m.

A city audit found that the Pittsburgh police records room has about $60,000 in undeposited checks and that about $17,000 was stolen from a cash register, Controller Michael Lamb said Thursday.

“As a city employee, it's the kind of thing that really makes you angry,” Lamb said. “It makes all of us look bad.”

Police said they are investigating the theft from the records room in the Municipal Courts Building, Downtown.

A part-time cashier in the office told a supervisor in November that she took about $15,000 beginning in October 2011, police said. She resigned Nov. 19. Authorities did not release her name because police have not charged her. She could not be reached for comment.

Lamb said it appears $17,000 in cash was taken from the register during an 18-month period. The records room charges $15 for copies of police reports.

“It's additionally troubling that it's police,” Lamb said. “The police are the people that are protecting us from this kind of fraud.”

Lamb said of the $60,000 in checks, about $10,000 worth are stale-dated, meaning they generally are more than 6 months old and can't be deposited.

“For us, it raises a whole other question about cash management throughout the city,” said Lamb, a likely candidate for mayor in the May primary.

Joanna Doven, a spokeswoman for Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, said “the controller handles all functions related to managing cash transactions.”

Lamb's office had not conducted a fiscal audit of the record room since he became controller in 2008. He said he expects the recommendations in the audit to be finished this month. They will include segregating duties to reduce opportunities for fraud and allowing payment from debit or credit cards, he said.

“Our main objective was to establish what was the theft and what recommendations we can make to avoid that kind of fraud in the future,” Lamb said.

Police spokeswoman Diane Richard said robbery detectives are investigating.

“It's going to be several more weeks as all the information is gathered from banks and financial institutions,” Richard said.

The city hired the cashier in 1991 and paid her about $14 an hour, according to city payroll records. She told Lt. Thomas Atkins, who oversees the office, that she tried to replace the money she took, but the situation got out of control, according to a police report. Atkins urged her to resign, the report states.

Mike Manko, spokesman for Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr., said the office received the city's audit about 10 days ago and has requested the employee's bank records.

In response to the theft, police no longer accept cash for reports, only checks and money orders, and are buying a register to track transactions.

“We implemented some safeguards to prevent this situation from happening again from that day forward,” Atkins said. “We tried to address the situation as soon as possible.”

He declined further comment.

Margaret Harding is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-8519 or mharding@tribweb.com.

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