A top aide in the Prince George's County sheriff's office who committed suicide a month ago was being investigated in connection with bookkeeping irregularities that may have involved the disappearance of as much as $100,000 in county funds.
The employee, Dolores M. Carobrese, served as the chief administrative aide to former Sheriff Don Edward Ansell, who was indicted in 1977 and later acquitted of charges he misappropriated funds.
The new sheriff, James Aluisi, said yesterday that the information investigators have gathered in a new probe of the department "is like the tip of iceberg."
"We just hit part of it," Aluisi said. "And we don't know if we'll ever get all the answers."
The investigation, conducted by the state's attorney's office and the county audits department, is focusing on the sheriff's department's role as the collection agency for the county court system.
The investigators believe that during the last eight to 10 years, thousands of dollars in money that should have been returned or deposited in the county account as court-ordered fines have disappeared.
The county audits department, in its report to be released in the next few weeks, has found many instances during the last four years in which court fines were paid to the sheriff's office but no receipts were issued or deposits made to the court's account.
Aluisi said the investigation of Carobrese began June 29 when her husband, August (Mike) Carobrese, approached the sheriff and told him that "thousands and thousands of dollars" in court fines, fees and bonds had been "stolen" by his wife, Dolores.
Dolores Carobrese died July 16 of carbon monoxide poisoning as she sat in her car, with the engine running inside the garage of her Bowie home.
Carobrese had been with the county sheriff's department for 16 years, both before and after Ansell's tenure. During the investigation, Aluisi who took office last December, transferred her to another job.
Investigators believe that Carobrese kept a "double bookkeeping" system in which money coming into the office often was recorded only on a few sheets of looseleaf paper kept in her desk instead of in official report ledgers. Money listed on the looseleaf sheets was found undeposited in the office safe, to which Carobrese, Ansell and other top aides had access, government sources said.
The double bookkeeping evidently allowed Carobrese to take in money, investigators said, without officially recording it. She would then enter it in the official receipt books only if the court requested its payment, a defendant who had posted bond asked for his money back or an evicted person sought the return of his seized funds.
"It appeared that it was a weeding-out system," a government source said. "If an attorney didn't come pick up (the bond or collateral), the money would just disappear."
The source said that investigarors believe that lost receipt books and confusing entries in the books still in the department were intended to cover up the misallocation of funds.
The sheriff's office has been unable to locate many records, including personal office files, for the years before Aluisi's election last year. During a grand jury probe into Ansell's affairs in 1977, the county administrator protested the fact that Ansell removed records from the warehouse without the proper authority Ansell said he did so to respond to subpoenas.
Shortly after he took office last December, Aluisi also received reports of missing weapons. The report prompted Aluisi to ask for a thorough county audit of his department.
"We found a lot of problems," Aluisi said yesterday. "There are a lot of irregularities and I just want to straighten it out so it doesn't happen under my administration."
Aluisi also sought help from the state's attorney's office June 30 after August Carobrese made the allegations against his wife, with whom he was having a domestic dispute.
August Carobrese said yesterday that he had not seen any evidence - either in purchases or their joint bank account - of the money he says his wife took from county coffers.
"I don't know why I said anything," the 64-year-old former welder said yesterday. "I wanted to know what was happening...I want to know who got [the money] and where it's at. I didn't want my wife involved in this. She didn't need the money."
Carobrese said he and his wife never discussed her job.
"All the years she worked down there, I never asked about her job," he said. "She was very closed-mouth. It screwed up my whole life and my whole home. I hope I can clear her and let her rest in peace."
Investigators searching the sheriff's office safe found between $2,000 and $3,000 in cash that had never been officially recorded or deposited.They found the money accounted for on two loose-leaf pages in Dolores Carobrese's desk. The money has since been deposited in the county's general fund.
Sources said that Prince George's County Executive Lawrence Hogan is looking into the possibility of "freezing" her estate until it is determined whether or not she illegally put county money in her own accounts. Hogan's office would not comment.