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Case of theft at tax commission office still open

Whatever happened to?

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A year after he took office, Tax Commissioner Steven Kendrick had a rude awakening: Someone filched thousands in cash tax payments from a vault left open over the 2010 Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend.

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More than $25,000 in cash plus checks were stolen from an open vault in January 2010.  File/Staff
File/Staff
More than $25,000 in cash plus checks were stolen from an open vault in January 2010.


Discovering the crime the following Tuesday, Kendrick took quick action to keep it from happening again and suspended a longtime employee who left the vault open.

But, 18 months later, despite investigators administering "many" polygraph exams, the case, being handled by "multiple investigators and supervisors" at the Richmond County Sheriff's Office, remains open and unsolved.

"Some cases are never solved," said Scott Peebles, a captain with the sheriff's criminal investigations division. "Lack of evidence is the obvious reason."

Peebles was assigned to respond to a set of questions about the case after the department wouldn't release any investigative reports from the case.

Authorities in Augusta question the attention continually paid by media to the case. Kendrick and Marshal Steve Smith, responsible for building security, both cited the lack of attention paid to a recent Sandy Springs tag office burglary by Atlanta-area media.

There, thieves entered the building at a loading dock and forced open doors, lock boxes and safes to escape with more than $53,000 in cash and checks, according to police.

"It has not been lost upon me and others, who say this particular thing got more attention than others ever did," Kendrick said.

In Augusta, police regard theories of how the tax office burglary occurred as "only speculation," and "will not float theories," Peebles said.

Facts that have been reported in The Augusta Chronicle include:

  •  Tax office customer service manager Kim R. J. Wilkins, an employee since 1979, admitted to leaving the first-floor office vault unsecured when she left work late Friday.
  •  A janitor, Charles Murray, saw the open vault door and informed a part-time marshal on duty, George Robinson, prior to the money - $25,308 in cash, plus checks for an unspecified amount - being reported missing.

According to a 2011 employee roster, Wilkins and Murray remain on the city payroll, while Robinson, who began with the city in 2002, does not.

At the time of the burglary, Sheriff's Lt. Tony Walden said a thief had gained access to the open vault by smashing a tax office window with a cinder block. Inside, Kendrick said the thief had pried open several safes in the open vault to gain access to the cash and checks. Peebles said the item used to open the safes was unknown and not recovered, and that all fingerprints found at the scene matched employee prints. Smith noted that the thief's choice of window - opening to a break room, and then obscured from surveillance - appeared to be either a crook's lucky break or something else.

For Kendrick, who offered to take a polygraph exam but was declined, the crime story ends there, with the investigation turned over to local law enforcement. According to Peebles, no other agency has worked with the department on the case.

The tax office has taken numerous steps to ensure tax dollars won't again so easily vanish, Kendrick said. A policy is now in place that triggers a bank deposit as soon as cash levels reach a certain point. Various security systems are operational and armed, and the vault door is kept closed, he said.

There had actually already been an alarm on the vault, but before Kendrick's 2008 election, service to the alarm had been cut off, Peebles said.

Kendrick, who lost a 2006 bid for mayor to Deke Copenhaver before he was elected in a runoff with Tommy Boyles to become Augusta's first black tax commissioner, said he takes complete responsibility for the burglary.

"It was our failure that gave somebody an opportunity to do that," Kendrick said.

Although the events seem fresh to those involved, the heist is only the latest to befall the tax commissioner's office. Under former Tax Commissioner Jerry Saul's watch, tag clerk Stephanie Lynn Womack was prosecuted in 2001 for embezzling more than $121,000 over an 11-year career at the department's Lumpkin Road tag office.

Prosecutors said Womack developed a scheme to falsify computer tax records to make it appear numerous residents were exempt from paying taxes, then pocketed the cash payments they made. She used the money to pay for trips and gifts for family and friends.

Womack, now 44, was found guilty and sentenced to 15 years for racketeering, violating income tax laws, making false statements in a government matter and numerous counts of theft by taking.

According to the Georgia Department of Pardons and Paroles, she was paroled from Metro State Women's Prison in March 2008 and lives in Kingsland, Ga.

After her conviction, a Richmond County grand jury offered a scathing review of operations at the tax commissioner's office, noting that internal audits were never performed, no written rules or policies for handling money were in place and that single employees often were entrusted with exclusive access to cash, records and receipts, among other things.

When he took office seven years later, Kendrick said he realized that many of the weaknesses had still not been addressed, and set about making improvements.

But limited by funds and the assumption that the main tax commission office in the Augusta Richmond County Municipal Building where all visitors are greeted by marshals and metal detectors at the door, somehow wasn't as much of a target, Kendrick put off upgrades at the main office until last, he said.

"That was not one that hit the priority" level, Kendrick said. "Had we done our portion, none of this would have happened."

About the series

Have you ever wanted to know what became of a local celebrity or a hot issue that once dominated the news in the area?

The Augusta Chronicle provides answers to readers' requests in its regular series, "Whatever happened to..." Today, we look at the theft of more than $25,000 from an open vault at the tax commissioner's office in January 2010.
Requests can be emailed to mike.wynn@augustachronicle.com or mailed to The Augusta Chronicle, Attn: Mike Wynn, P.O. Box 1928, Augusta, GA, 30903-1928, Attn: Mike Wynn, or placed in the online comment section.

Timeline of events surrounding theft at tax commission office:

Jan. 15, 2010: Employees work late at the Tax Commissioner's office. Customer Service Manager Kim Wilkins admits leaving the vault door open when she was the last to leave. Maintenance man Charles Murray informs Marshal George Robinson that a door is open in the tax office.

Jan. 19, 2010: More than $25,000 in cash and an undisclosed amount in checks are discovered missing from the vault that was left open a few days earlier. A window on the side of the building is found shattered by a cinder block.

Jan. 20, 2010: Authorities acknowledge that a maintenance worker had tipped off the marshal in charge of building security that a door was open at the tax office. Tax Commissioner Steven Kendrick suspends Customer Service Manager Wilkins for a week for forgetting protocol and leaving the vault open.

Jan. 26, 2010: Officials reveal that new 24-hour manned security at Augusta's Municipal Building is in place at a cost of $1,200 per week. Several employees have been given polygraph exams, including Marshal George Robinson who took two, authorities say.

March 2, 2010: The Augusta Commission authorizes spending up to $95,000 on security upgrades at Augusta Municipal Building.

June 28, 2011: Authorities report little progress on an investigation into a burglary at the Tax Commissioner's office 18 months earlier.

Comments (10) Add comment
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Crime Reports and Rewards TV
33
Points
Crime Reports and Rewards TV 07/11/11 - 01:21 am
0
0
No one mentioned in this

No one mentioned in this article that a Brinks truck was NOT ALLOWED to load the money the day before the long weekend when they came to get it. Then after the tax office would not let Brinks pick up the money, it went missing. When the press questioned Kendrick he is quoted in the press as saying “The money was insured”, but when asked about that written quote he denied ever saying the money was insured even though the press quoted him as saying it, then when he said he would take FULL RESPONSIBILY for it everyone thought that meant he would pay it back because when you take responsibility for something gone missing you agree to replace it. That’s what taking responsibility for something missing means.
T o recap.
1. The money was supposed to be picked up before the long MLK jr holiday but the tax office did not let the Brinks truck that picks it up all the time,... pick it up THIS ONE TIME.
2. Kendrick is quoted by the press as saying "The money was insured". It wasn’t…
3. Kendrick said he would "take complete responsibility for the missing money" which everyone took as meaning he would replace it, He HASN’T…
4. We asked RC that the GBI be notified of the money gone missing because it was an elected official who would not let the Brinks Truck Pick it up even though we paid to have that truck pick it up. They won’t…

tanbaby
1306
Points
tanbaby 07/11/11 - 02:57 am
0
0
kinda obvious what happened
Unpublished

kinda obvious what happened to that money.....

Brad Owens
4859
Points
Brad Owens 07/11/11 - 07:33 am
1
0
FACT, Safe left open over

FACT, Safe left open over long weekend, large amount of cash in it
FACT, NO alarms, NO pick up, NO one informed the Marshall's office
FACT, Someone threw a brick in the perfect window for this crime
FACT, $25,308 in cash stolen
FACT, "all fingerprints found at the scene matched employee prints."
FACT, No one has been arrested and the case is unsolved

Please note, the Marshall Smith "noted that the thief's choice of window - opening to a break room, and then obscured from surveillance - appeared to be either a crook's lucky break or something else..."

Something else? INSIDE JOB maybe?

SPIN; Kendrick sez he takes complete responsibility for the burglary, and I quote, "It was our failure that gave somebody an opportunity to do that."

Please note the "our" in his comments. Kendrick then went on to whine about the press coverage..."It has not been lost upon me and others, who say this particular thing got more attention than others ever did"

SPIN SPIN SPIN

Sounds like he is playing a card in his hand, I am not sure which one it is, but it seems to be a card that is useful to certian elected officials when cornered.

This article went on to state..."Richmond County grand jury offered a scathing review of operations at the tax commissioner's office...Kendrick said he realized that many of the weaknesses had still not been addressed...limited by funds and the assumption that the main tax commission office in the Augusta Richmond County Municipal Building...somehow wasn't as much of a target, Kendrick put off upgrades at the main office until last, he said..."

Ahhhh, "assumption"...that is the Mother of all mess-ups. When it comes to security, you cannot "assume" anything.

It seems that securing his office was not on his list of important things to do as he admitted..."That was not one that hit the priority" level, Kendrick said. "Had we done our portion, none of this would have happened..."

I guess hindsight is 20/20 huh?

And I am sure he wishes this would just go away, but then again, I wish it had never happened too.

Brad

allhans
24513
Points
allhans 07/11/11 - 08:30 am
1
0
It is not only the press that

It is not only the press that wants to know Mr. Kendrick, taxpayers want to know what happened to their money.

Riverman1
90455
Points
Riverman1 07/11/11 - 08:06 am
0
0
In the military if something

In the military if something like that happened, the officer in charge would have to put up the cash to offset the theft. Negligence that results in loss of funds has to be addressed.

Crime Reports and Rewards TV
33
Points
Crime Reports and Rewards TV 07/11/11 - 10:14 am
1
0
This case has drawn the

This case has drawn the attention of everybody who has spoken with Kendrick even ONCE or followed the unfolding events of this crime because he CHANGED HIS STORY EVERY TIME.
Because HIS story has changed every time the GBI MUST NOW BE CALLED IN.

To those CHARGED with this responsibility, call the GBI, it is your DUTY not your CHOICE!

Emerydan
10
Points
Emerydan 07/11/11 - 09:41 am
1
0
I hope the voters will have

I hope the voters will have the good wisdom to kick Mr kendrick out of this office at the next election. It seems all that Mr Kendrick is concerned about is that the media is paying too much attention to this case. Actually I think they are paying too little attention to the case, but that's besides the point. I think the GBI should be brought in on this case. It didn't smell right then and stinks even worse now. And all kendrick can do is blame the media for reporting on it. Is this really the kind of "public servant" we want in this office?

Emerydan
10
Points
Emerydan 07/11/11 - 09:45 am
1
0
why isn't the GBI on this

why isn't the GBI on this case? Sorry, but I just don't trust the local yokels investigating themselves.

broad street narrow mind
348
Points
broad street narrow mind 07/11/11 - 09:50 am
0
0
ditto all y'all. how much
Unpublished

ditto all y'all. how much extra funding does it take to lock the vault or have the brinks truck make its usual pickup? this little mishap seems to be left alone as obnoxiously as the tee center bribe. how's that one going?

Emerydan
10
Points
Emerydan 07/11/11 - 10:01 am
1
0
The TEE bribe was another

The TEE bribe was another case where the GBI should have been brought in. To me whenever, there is a case involving government officials, like the tax office burglary or the TEE bribe scandal.. you need the state investigators stepping in.

wondersnevercease
9218
Points
wondersnevercease 07/11/11 - 10:08 am
0
0
"It has not been lost upon me
Unpublished

"It has not been lost upon me and others, who say this particular thing got more attention than others ever did," Kendrick said.

Could it be that the local people are not concerned about Atlanta's thieves but are completely concerned about Augusta criminals Mr. Kendrick?...and not about the particular card you are alluding to?........

wondersnevercease
9218
Points
wondersnevercease 07/11/11 - 10:11 am
0
0
As for the AC..Well
Unpublished

As for the AC..Well Done!....do not drop the ball on this ..keep on publishing and we will keep on questioning until the thief is caught and the monies paid back.

Emerydan
10
Points
Emerydan 07/11/11 - 10:43 am
1
0
Well if the Atlanta media

Well if the Atlanta media didn't cover the tax burglary case in Sandy Springs then shame on them.. but that should have nothing to do with the case here. The cabal has an interest in protecting Kendrick. There's lots more to this story and I'm sure there is a reason why they all wish it would go away. Anyone know what downtown authority Mr Kendrick sits on?

broad street narrow mind
348
Points
broad street narrow mind 07/11/11 - 01:19 pm
0
0
emerydan, the dda is our
Unpublished

emerydan, the dda is our friend. all they ask in return is our last dollars. our friendly (and growing!) neighborhood dollar digging appendage.

dichotomy
36257
Points
dichotomy 07/12/11 - 09:26 am
1
0
I'm sorry but it has "inside

I'm sorry but it has "inside job" written all over it. The refused pick-up, if that's true, is just too coincidental when combined with the fact that on the same day the pick-up was refused, the safe just happened to be left open. There was immediate concern that a government official, and/or employee, was involved. Of course the GBI should have been called in immediately. Race card noted and discarded Mr. Kendrick. It's only good for covering up the incompetence card or the guilty card nowadays anyway so which way did you want to play it?

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