New, Unwelcome Question for SDPD: How has $1M Gone Unaccounted For?

What’s become of a million bucks, seemingly erased without telltale smudge marks?

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    NEWSLETTERS

    San Diego's troubled police department is facing more unwelcome questions right now. This time, about its finances. For starters, why is $1 million unaccounted for? NBC 7's Gene Cubbison reports on what could turn into another costly problem for taxpayers. (Published Friday, May 23, 2014)

     There's yet another mystery now haunting San Diego's embattled police department: The whereabouts of a million dollars in federal funds that haven't shown up "on paper."

    It’s a case that'll have to be solved by city financial experts and auditors because the cop shop's numbers don't square up.

    It may be that somebody didn't hit a certain number on a keyboard – at least that’s the best City Hall might hope for.

    "To me, I'm not worried that it's a crime; it doesn't look like that,” said Sean Karafin, CEO of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association. "But it's more of an issue of why was this not caught? Why has it taken four years for the media to be the ones to find it?"

    The million-dollar discrepancy was turned up by the "U-T Watchdog", which has been reviewing documents involving U.S. Treasury and Justice Department programs that share "forfeited assets" from drug dealers and other crooks with state and local law enforcement.

    In the case of SDPD, the closing Treasury balance for fiscal year 2010 was $1,153,426.

    The beginning balance shown for the next fiscal year was $153,426.

    Do that math, and the question arises: What’s become of a million bucks, seemingly erased without telltale smudge marks?

    Was there a simple "typo" -- a lack of a keystroke, an error of omission -- in the worst possible place?

    Just a missing "1" that should have been entered in the 'million' column, but wasn't?

    Given the city's history of financial issues, it'll take an investigation to prove -- or disprove – that hopeful explanation.

    According to Matt Awbrey, communications chief for Mayor Kevin Faulconer, this is an issue that “demands immediate attention” – and the mayor’s chief financial officer has been delegated to conduct a “forensic accounting analysis."

    Said Richard Rider, chairman of San Diego Tax Fighters: “They can't go at with this halfway. So as a result, I suspect it will cost thousands. I don't know how many thousands. It might be $2,000, it might be $20,000 -- probably someplace in that range. But they have no choice."

    The 2010 and 2011 reports were handled by different people, raising questions as to continuity in numbers-crunching and data entries.

    "When this report first came out,” Rider mused in an interview Friday, “why didn't the supervisor -- why didn't the person typing it, to start with -- but the supervisor, when they looked at the report, do what I say is the 'Giggle Test'?"

    Just for giggles, NBC 7 took the documents “to the streets” – where “Kathy from South Park” offered this worst-case theory: "Maybe somebody isn't here that is in the Bahamas. Maybe they're already in the Bahamas, they've already left, and they're enjoying it."

    Enjoying a million dollars gained through fraudulent means, exactly to the penny?

    Kathy reconsidered, with a laugh: “That's why I think maybe it's a typo."

    For all the hassles now ahead, Karafin sees a teachable moment in the offing.

    “This really points to there being a real process problem,” he said. “And you know, it's probably time that we look at it and go to a full audit anyway."