FF12: Sedgwick County DA no longer using cash after money disappears

SEDGWICK COUNTY, Kan. (KWCH) There's a lock on the front door after hours. There's a combination lock between the lobby and the rest of the office. There's a keyed lock back to certain administrative offices. There's a lock to each individual office. There's a lock on a cabinet with a locked box inside.

All those locks and yet Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett said $305 is missing.

"It's used to spend on incidentals for witnesses in crimes, that's it," Bennett said. "Some people if they come in from out of town, they'll drive if they have the means, we will send a check and they'll just deposit in their checking account. Some people don't have money to get here so when they arrive they may not have enough money to get home, so we will give them an incidental amount of money, memorialize it and that's where the money was spent."

Plus, Bennett said if the witnesses get to the courthouse before lunch, the DA's office buys their lunch at the cafeteria. Once it's closed, they'll go to a nearby place to get the witnesses food. Bennett said each person gets $16 per day per diem.

"In little increments, that's how the money is spent," Bennett said.

At any given time, the box has around 300 or 400 dollars, Bennett said, and the county supplies that money. He said every couple months, the county comes to do a quick audit and checks to see what was spent and how. The last time that happened was in November and there were no issues.

But in March, Bennett said the employee who handles the box of cash noticed it was lower than ti should be. She ran the numbers and realized it only had around $100 inside where it should have had more. That's when she determined $305 was missing.

"We at first thought maybe someone over the holidays had witnesses coming and going or maybe someone was on vacation and forgot to put the note where it ought to be," Bennett said. "I can't say that that didn't happen but for 20 plus years that's never happened and how did we suddenly forget how to handle money here?"

Bennett said they investigated internally and didn't find any information. He said he asked if someone may have taken the money and not logged it but nobody said they did.

He said he can't prove someone stole the money but said the box is tucked back away in an office and many don't even know it exists if they don't work with witnesses. He said it would be pretty bold for someone to try to steal it during business hours as their back would have to be to the door as they're doing so. Bennett also said that office is right next to his.

"You know it's irritating that we would have that happen here. 300 dollars isn't a great deal of money but at the same time nobody likes to think that they're vulnerable to that sort of thing," Bennett said.

Bennett won't single out any specific group or person who may have taken the money. He said there are many who would have access to the office at different times so he said it would be "nearly impossible" for him to determine what happened.

Because it is the DA's office, Bennett said he felt obligated to report the missing money since he does suspect theft. He said he called the sheriff's office.

Sedgwick County Leiutenant Lin Dehning said the case has been turned over to investigations and detectives are working to see if there are any suspects.

In the meantime, Bennett said his office will no longer deal with cash. He said they'll have to figure out some other way of helping out witnesses, maybe through the credit union. That's still being worked out.

The cash, Bennett said, is no more.