Prince George's County prosecutors last year released financial and property logs -- later destroyed -- that could have answered key questions in a new probe of alleged financial irregularities within the county sheriff's department.
The records were held by the state's attorney's office for several months during a 1977 grand jury investigation of former Sheriff Don Edward Ansell, who was indicted and acquitted on charges of misuse of funds. Ansell got the records back from the prosecutors after his acquittal and, three days before he left office last December, personally ordered their destruction.
According to a receipt for the records received by the state's attorney's office and signed by former Assistant Sheriff Guy T. Williams, the records were "all destroyed 12/1/78 per orders of Sheriff Ansell."
Earlier this week, county investigators learned that three deputy sheriffs buried a truckload of departmental files at a county dump shortly before Ansell left office. Ansell denied any knowledge of such an incident. "I did not destroy records and my deputies would not have been authorized to destroy anything within the last three-year period," Ansell said in an interview Tuesday.
He was not available for comment yesterday.
The destruction of the departmental files was discovered by investigators for Sheriff James V. Aluisi, Ansell's successor, who is looking into allegations that former department officials were responsible for the disappearance of as much as $100,000 in county funds as well as personal property deputies confiscated from evicted or arrested persons.
Assistant Sheriff James W. Hubbard yesterday said that Aluisi has asked for a meeting with the state's attorney's office to see whether the destruction of the records violates a state law.
Arthur A. Marshall, the state's attorney in Prince George's, said yesterday that an "unauthorized destruction of state property" could result in charges of malfeasance against those involved in such an act. Malfeasance, which does not involve a criminal penalty, means the carrying out of lawful activities with ulterior or wrongful motives.
Robert C. Bonsib, the assistant state's attorney who prosecuted Ansell, received the receipt from the sheriff's department after the subpoenaed records were returned to Ansell. He said he did not act immediately on the destruction of the records because "It didn't seem criminal at the time. They were their records and we had no basis to keep them."
Bonsib said he did not discuss the record destruction with Aluisi's department because "I assumed they had a copy of this." Hubbard, Aluisi's assistant, said the department had no record of the destroyed records and did not know about the receipt until yesterday.
Aluisi's department has been attempting to find the records since late June, when allegations first arose about possible bookkeeping irregularities in the department over an eight-to 10-year period.
Since that time, the sheriff's department and the county Department of Audits have been probing the recordkeeping of Dolores Carobrese, a former administrative aide to Ansell who killed herself last month. Investigators believe as much as $100,000 may have disappeared over the last decade through Carobrese's handling of a double bookkeeping system.
Aluisi said the investigation was focusing on the sheriff's department's role as the collection agency for the county court system. According to the investigators, thousands of dollars that should have been returned or deposited in the county account as court-ordered fines have disappeared.
The investigators suspect that Carobrese kept a double bookkeeping system in which money coming into the office was recorded only on a few sheets of paper kept in her desk instead of in official report ledgers. A small amount of the money that appeared to be listed on the looseleaf sheets was found recently in the office safe, to which Carobrese, Ansell and other top aides had access.
Clifford Blend, the internal affairs investigator for the sheriff's department, said yesterday that the destruction of the records could mean the department will never solve the bookkeeping allegations. He also said the loss of records would make it "all but impossible" for the department to defend itself against a recently filed suit involing property confiscated during a 1976 conviction.
The suit alleged that antique guns and swords held by the department after the eviction were improperly destroyed by the sheriff's department or disappeared.
Blend said he has been unable to find many records regarding the confiscated property. "We're being put in a hell of a position," he said.
In a related development yesterday, County Executive Lawrence Hogan said he will direct the county audits department to widen its probe to include all jail funds of which Carobrese kept records. Hogan said he was acting on a "tip" from an unidentified source that funds may have disappeared from the jail's commissary.