Investigators conducting a wide-spread probe of the Prince George's County sheriff's department learned yesterday that three deputies buried a truckload of office records at a county dump just before former sheriff Don Edward Ansell left office last December.
One of the deputies involved, Morris Ephraim, told investigators he aided in the dumping of records at the Brown Station Road landfill after being requested to do so by the administrative section of the sheriff's department.
Ephraim said he was under orders to make sure the books were completely covered by the bulldozer at the dump before leaving the scene. But he said he was not told what kind of information was contained in the records he buried.
Sheriff James V. Aluisi, who succeeded Ansell last December, said his investigators have thus far been unable to determine the contents of the buried records. Since late in June, Aluisi's department has been probing missing records and allegations that bookkeeping irregulatities by former department officials led to the disappearance of as much as $100,000 in county funds.
The target of the bookkeeping probe -- Dolores Carobrese, a former administrative aide to Ansell -- committed suicide last month.
"I'm concerned about why a month before I took office the decision was made to transport records and have them buried in a landfill," Aluisi said yesterday. Aluisi said he feared that records his department was trying to locate in connection with their investigation -- including property logs and personal office files -- may have been buried in the dump.
"There is no way we can dig up the landfill and find out," he said, because it is so large. About 300 acres are now used for dumping.
The dumping of the records came to Aluisi's attention because of a suit filed recently against Ansell and the department over property confiscated during an eviction in 1976. 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,
In attempting to trace what happened to the property, Aluisi and his assistants discovered that many property records were missing. They knew where the records from that time were located.
Ephraim said he had never mentioned the dumping of the records to Aluisi before because it "didn't strike me as peculiar. There were a lot of old uniforms (in the truck), and we assumed that the books were to cover them."
Ephraim said some cardboard file cabinets also were buried in the dump. He said that deputy John Smith, from administrative section, told him that the records had to be covered up and that "we stood there while the bulldozer covered them."
Smith, who no longer works with the sheriff's department, could not be reached for comment.
Ansell, contacted yesterday at his Marlow Heights restaurant, said he had no knowledge of the dumping and never authorized it.
However, Ansell said that under his administration all records were destroyed -- by burning -- after three years. He said no record of what was destroyed were ever kept.
In response to questions about missing records, Ansell said: "I don't know why they're missing them now. They were all there when I left."
Ansell was indicted in 1977 and later acquitted of charges that he misappropriated sheriff department funds. During a grand jury probe into Ansell's affairs that year the county administrator protested the fact that Ansell removed records from the warehouse without the proper authority. Ansell said he did so in response to subpoenas.
According to the Maryland Attorney General's office, the state code specifies that all sheriff department records pertaining to fees and other charges remain in the sheriff's office indefinitely.
Ansell said the authorization to destroy records "was automatic. They took them to the dump [to be burned] every year." He said former Assistant Sheriff Guy T. Williams, who was indicted with Ansell in 1977, would have been responsible for authorizing the destruction of records. The 1977 charges were dropped.
Williams could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Last Friday, Aluisi disclosed that Carobrese -- at the time of her death in July -- was being investigated in connection with bookkeeping irregularities that may have involved the disappearance of as much as $100,000 in county funds.
Aluisi said the investigation was 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.
Investigators said they believe 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. Money listed on the looseleaf sheets was found undeposited in the office safe, to which Carobrese, Ansell and other top aides had access. The amount of unaccounted for money that Aluisi's aides found in the safe recently totaled about $3,000 in cash.