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By Laura Maggi

NEW ORLEANS - New Orleans Police Superintendent Warren Riley acknowledged for the first time Thursday that $19,000 in cash is missing from the department's property room and promised to investigate the matter fully.
The department's Public Integrity Bureau will conduct a criminal investigation, though Riley said it's still unclear whether the money was stolen or somehow misplaced.
"If someone stole some money, then there will be severe consequences," said Riley, who was out of town last week when news broke about the missing money. "Hopefully, it will be in a container bin somewhere."
Officers with the evidence and property room will also complete an inventory of all evidence held by the NOPD as part of a move to new quarters on Magnolia Street, Riley said.
Defense attorney Rick Teissier had obtained two court orders to pick up a total of $35,903 in cash that police took from his client during a September 2007 drug bust. But when Teissier went to get the money, the property room could only account for $16,900 of the money, which police seized from his client when he was arrested with about 10 pounds of marijuana.
Teissier's client, Anthony Tocco, was entitled to get his money back because prosecutors failed to file a motion to begin forfeiture proceedings. Tocco pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute marijuana in March and was given a suspended sentence of eight years, along with five years probation.
Police originally would not allow Teissier to take the remaining money during two initial visits to the property room, but he finally got it Nov. 7. Riley said his officers needed time to process the money and its container for possible physical evidence, such as fingerprints.
Riley said there have been procedural changes at the evidence and property room since the money was first brought there. He said that under Capt. Danny Lawless, the commander of the property room at that time, there were 12 people with keys to access cash and drugs stored by police. That was changed when a new commander, Capt. Frederick Morton, was named in January, Riley said.
But Lawless, who retired this year after 38 years with the department, said only two people had keys when he was in charge, the same number Riley said now have access to money and drug evidence. Lawless also said he wrote numerous memos to Riley and other top department commanders in hopes of improving what he saw as lax evidence storage procedures, particularly while the property room was temporarily located in trailers after Katrina.
Lawless said he recommended video cameras, additional locks on doors and bars on the windows. He also suggesting using a moving company rather than police recruits to move evidence from one location to another. "Every request, it all fell on deaf ears," he said.
Riley said the department is planning new security measures, such as video cameras, at the new property building at 1116 Magnolia St. The department opened that facility after Hurricane Gustav, he said.

Wire Service
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