Raleigh, N.C. — More than $15 million worth of state property has been lost, stolen or damaged since 2004, according to public records obtained by WRAL Investigates.
While some cases prompted criminal investigations, many of the losses are gone for good. Last year, state agencies reported nearly $2.4 million in lost property, which breaks down the following way:
- Damaged: $942,000
- Stolen: More than $860,000
- Misused: Approximately $500,000
- Embezzled: $34,000
- Arson: $2,300
Any time state property gets lost, stolen or damaged, agencies are required to fill out an incident report, which goes to the State Bureau of Investigation for review.
WRAL Investigates reviewed the records from 2009, which shows three key areas of loss. The first key area is missing equipment. Last year's reports show the North Carolina Department of Correction couldn't account for more than $300,000 in office equipment, such as computers, copiers, printers and sorters.
“Things that are missing here are things at the end of their life (such as) 6- (to) 8-year-old computers,” said DOC spokesman Keith Acree.
Equipment values are listed as retail, not depreciated, according to Acree. For instance, a missing Tandy 3000 computer made in the 80s is valued at more than $1,300. Still, there is no record the computers ever made it to state surplus as they should. Outdated or not, Acree says DOC Secretary Alvin Keller took serious note of the long list.
“The first time he saw these, he didn't like what he saw,” Acree said.
Acree cited management changes and poor record keeping for the losses. He said he doesn't think staff stole state property, but he acknowledged that it could happen.
“It could and that's why we're concerned about this, and we're stressing to employees who have the equipment manager duty how important it is to keep on top of this,” he said.
A second level of loss was misused property. While some cases were prosecuted for embezzlement, others were treated as serious misunderstandings. Records show Wachovia Bank sent a $25,000 check for a program to Fayetteville State University in September 2008. That check was wrongly forwarded to the home of former Chancellor Willis McCleod.
McCleod deposited the check, which included his name, into his personal account. He told WRAL Investigates that he "thought it was from Wachovia investments," but he never called to verify. Months later, Fayetteville State called looking for the money. McCleod returned it, with interest, and no charges were filed.
Yet another high dollar loss for the state comes from damaged property. For the Department of Transportation, much of that damage happens on the side of the road.
“Trees are considered as assets,” said DOT engineer Ted Sherrod.
The DOT has reported hundreds of thousands of dollars in tree losses, mostly from businesses clearing around signs in the right of way.
“We'll have about as many as 50 cases a year,” Sherrod said.
For instance, in Moore County, a man who owns storage units along U.S. Highway 1 cleared out the state-owned woods near his business, but he failed to get the required permits. DOT estimated the damage at more than $174,000, but settled for $40,000.
Whether items are damaged, lost or stolen, there is a public cost.
“And ultimately, it’s about being good stewards of the taxpayer money,” Acree said.