LIMA — The employee at the center of a criminal investigation into the possible theft of evidence from the Allen County Sheriff’s Office evidence room is a former deputy, Sheriff Sam Crish said Tuesday.
Crish would not identify that person by name. Crish, however, previously said there were three employees who had the combination to enter the evidence room. A review of personnel files of the three showed Sgt. Frederick DePalma retired in November.
A week ago Crish terminated DePalma’s credentials as a special deputy with the agency, according to a record in his personnel file.
Crish said in a written statement Tuesday “the claimed misconduct would have occurred while the individual was still employed by the Sheriff’s Office.”
Prosecutor Juergen Waldick also has stepped away from the matter and asked for an outside prosecutor to handle it to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest. Mercer County Prosecutor Matt Fox has been appointed to the case.
The sheriff said he has asked an outside police agency to conduct an audit of all evidence held at his agency.
DePalma, 49, was a 27-year employee of the office most recently serving as a sergeant in the identification bureau. He was the crime scene guy who collected, documented and shot photos at the scene.
Crish announced last week he called the Ohio Attorney General’s Office to handle a possible theft case from the evidence room at his agency. The attorney general’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation was called in to handle the matter as an independent third-party investigatory agency.
Crish called BCI to take his agency out of the equation and avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest.
The sheriff said he was confident the missing evidence was not misplaced and was gone.
No one has been charged in connection with the incident.
Crish learned of a possible incident when he was notified a piece of evidence was either missing or lost and that it related to an investigation that has been closed or the case was complete.
“I have no information that there is any other missing or lost evidence that relates to any matter currently pending in the criminal justice system,” Crish said.
A review of DePalma’s personnel file showed a positive record with minor disciplinary action, such as seeking another employee to handle three work assignments in 2005. His file is full of training certificates he attended for his job.
DePalma was praised by supervisors in reviews including a 1991 evaluation in which a supervisor wrote, “He is very concerned about the image of the department.”
Ironically in 2000, DePalma spoke to a kindergarten class at a local school about stealing.
“I told them what happens to people when they steal and how you never know who is watching,” he wrote in a letter to his supervisors explaining his speech.
He also said he checked back with a school official and the stealing had stopped after his speech.