Patrol Seeks Charges For Theft Of Evidence

CLEVELAND (AP) - The State Highway Patrol wants criminal charges filed against a former state agent in the theft of evidence from the food stamp trafficking unit.

A special audit released this week by State Auditor Jim Petro shows that food stamp agents and supervisors were unable to account for drugs, cigarettes, alcohol, food and other items that undercover agents bought with food stamps between July 1995 and December 1999.

The audit includes findings for recovery against Jan Hartman, a former food stamp agent and evidence officer, The Plain Dealer reported. Auditors said Hartman could not account for $1,328.

Patrol spokesman Lt. Gary Lewis said the investigation began in 1999, when the patrol learned that an unidentified agent had improperly stored evidence in the Cincinnati Police Department's property room instead of in the food stamp unit's evidence room.

The state audit cites Hartman for improperly storing an unspecified amount of cash with Cincinnati police in 1996.

Neither Lewis nor Ed Duvall, who supervises food stamp agents as head of the Ohio Department of Public Safety's investigative unit, would say whether Hartman is suspected of wrongdoing.

Lewis said the patrol has recommended that federal prosecutors in Columbus seek charges against a former agent assigned to a federal task force in Zanesville.

Hartman could not be reached for comment. A spokesman for the state's personnel office said Hartman resigned in December 1999. He was paid $43,035 a year.

The audit criticizes the food stamp unit for sloppy bookkeeping.

Evidence custody documents, food stamp transaction reports, physical inventory lists and other records did not jibe, Duvall said.

They were so disorganized that the state still does not have a detailed accounting of what, and how much, is missing, he added.

"It's obviously embarrassing to find out that supervision could have been better and that policies weren't being adhered to as we would like them, but then you have to understand that this is very detailed scrutiny of a unit that is no longer in existence," Duvall told the newspaper.

Auditors reported they were unable to determine what happened to evidence in 167 cases.

"We could not determine the disposition of food stamps totaling $2,580 and pieces of evidence consisting of drugs, cigarettes, alcoholic beverages, audio tapes, food items, lottery tickets, photographs, drug paraphernalia, an automobile and miscellaneous paper documents," the auditors wrote.

The audit also cited unit investigators for illegally giving informants $695 worth of food stamps in exchange for information, and for failing to inform the U.S. Department of Agriculture when food stamps were stolen during investigations.

Duvall, a former Akron police lieutenant, reorganized the food stamp unit, and food stamp and state liquor agents now work side by side in the public safety's investigative unit. He said he requested the audit and criminal investigation shortly after taking over the investigative unit in May 1999.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)