WOONSOCKET – The controversy over a gold necklace that mysteriously vanished from a police evidence locker found its way to City Hall Friday, where Mayor Leo T. Fontaine promised a full-blown investigation into what happened to the missing valuable.
“This is certainly a matter of some concern and we’re going to do everything we can to get to the bottom of it,” said the mayor.
Fontaine said he was optimistic that the loss was an inventory control issue and not an internal theft. “We process about 3,000 pieces of property and evidence a year at the police station,” he said. “I don’t want to make light of this situation, but that’s a lot of evidence.”
NBC-TV’s I-Team broke the story of the missing necklace on Thursday. The station said a stolen bracelet and the necklace were recovered by police in a pawn shop two years ago, but when state prosecutors needed to produce the evidence for a criminal case in December the police couldn’t find the necklace, said to be worth about $22,000.
Fontaine pointed out that the necklace appears to have been placed into the Woonsocket Police Department’s evidence locker around August 2009, a time that predated his administration.
At the time, it had been less than a year since Chief Thomas Carey had assumed command of the department after a string of scandals during the reign of a now-retired predecessor, including one involving the mishandling of evidence.
“In our effort to secure national accreditation for the police department, our policies and procedures for handling evidence have been significantly tightened up since then,” said Fontaine.
Lt. Eugene Jalette, the spokesman for the police department, said the necklace and bracelet were originally reported missing as a result of a larceny from the same person, but he declined to identify the victim or any other details about the case yesterday.
“We’re not going to release that because it’s part of the ongoing investigation,” he said.
Fontaine said perhaps four police officers have access to the evidence room at Woonsocket police headquarters, but he said the investigation is not targeting any individual at this point.
He said it is premature to conclude that the department’s inability to locate the necklace at the moment is the result of an intentionally wrongful act, but he would not rule out the possibility of a criminal probe if all other efforts to locate the missing item ultimately fail.
Contrary to reports that the police initially recovered the necklace in “a pawn shop” that paid $11,000 for it, neither Mr. Pawn – the only pawn shop in the city –nor any of several gold redemption centers associated with the business, ever took possession of the item, a worker at the Bernon Street shop told The Call Friday.
Amy Kempe, a spokesman for the attorney general, did not immediately provide details about the criminal case in which the item was to be presented as evidence last month. Kempe said she was consulting with Stacey Veroni, chief of the criminal division, to determine whether that information may be released.