Security knew tax commissioner vault was open

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Steven Kendrick said a longtime employee left the vault open.

Before someone broke into the Augusta Municipal Building and stole more than $25,000 from the tax office, a nighttime janitor discovered the vault open and reported it to security.

But, authorities said Wednesday, no one appeared to act on the Friday night tip, and during the weekend someone smashed the first-floor glass window of the tax office, entered the safe and pried open several locked drawers containing cash and checks.

Authorities would not identify the security officer who got the tip, but Marshal Steve Smith described him as a part-time employee of his office who worked at night.

Officials were attempting to contact him Wednesday, Smith said.

Richmond County sheriff's Lt. Tony Walden said the case was "still under investigation" and would not say whether the man had been interviewed.

Tax Commissioner Steven Kendrick suspended a manager in his office Wednesday for a week without pay for leaving the vault open, which he described as an "oversight."

Kim Wilkins, an employee since 1979, was working late Friday to finish up before the holiday weekend and was the last person to leave.

Kendrick stressed he has no reason to believe she was involved in the crime.

"None whatsoever," he said. "She's a good lady. You don't make it 30 years over there and get to be a manager without having something good going for you."

Kendrick described her as distraught over what happened, but he said he had to discipline her to set an example.

"I know she feels bad," he said. "I had a policy, she knew what the policy was, she made a mistake."

He made mistakes of his own, Kendrick said at a Wednesday morning news conference. Both he and law enforcement officials admitted the Municipal Building's security, which is supervised by the Marshal's Office, had failed.

"This building, honestly, we thought was more secure based on the fact that we are here and there are security guards here," Kendrick said. "That was a mistake on my part to make that assumption. We are going to rectify that."

For his part, Smith said he met with Kendrick earlier and they discussed changes to the building's security, including the possibility of increasing night patrols and surveillance.

"Our focus has primarily been daytime security," he said. "Obviously, as a result of this, we have to shift our priority to nighttime hours."

In a public statement earlier Wednesday, Kendrick said the manager was unable to remember whether the vault was left open or closed Friday night. It's typically closed about 5 p.m. each work day, but the routine was off because of staff staying late.

An armored car picked up the previous day's deposit Friday afternoon, Kendrick said. The money stolen -- $25,308 plus checks representing an unknown amount -- came from Friday's deposit.

Kendrick said his staff should have been more diligent.

"I take full responsibility for what has happened because it happened in our office on my watch," he said.

The break-in went undetected until Tuesday despite a building alarm system, security cameras and a weekend patrol by the Marshal's Office.

Authorities confirmed there is no footage of the break-in, but they are still reviewing video to determine whether any of the cameras caught suspicious behavior. The burglar, or burglars, did not enter any other part of the building, Smith said.

Reach Adam Folk and Johnny Edwards at (706) 724-0851