Cash missing from NSBPD evidence room far greater than let on in city manager-directed press release

Citizen watchdog Bob Tolley: 'Pam Brangaccio needs to be terminated'

Former NSB Police Chief Ron Pagano / Headline SurferNSB Interim Police Chief Michael Brouillette / Headline SurferNSB Mayor Adam Barringer / Headline SurferNSB City Manager Pam Brangaccio / Headline Surfer Headline Surfer photos / A scandal in the New Smyrna Beach Police Department under the watch of then-Police Chief Ron Pagano, shown at left, who retired at year's end after 12 years at the helm, was the subject of multiple investigations into missing money and other items from the NSBPD evidence room going back nearly a decade.  The situation was made public eight days ago in after-hours press release issued by the police department under Interim Police Chief Michael Brouillette (shown in the far left inset), but crafted from City Hall under the direction of City Manger Pam Brangaccio. The extent of missing money was understated and actual investigative documents showing more than 900 items missing from the inventory were held back. Neither she nor Mayor Adam Barringer are talking. And Bob Tolley, the citizen watchdog, who has already filed complaints against both of them on unrelated issues with the Florida Commission on Ethics, says the city manager should be fired.

NEW SMYRNA BEACH -- When a press release was emailed by the New Smyrna Beach Police Department to local media outlets a week ago Friday, it stated $1,220 in cash was missing from three tampered envelopes in police evidence room. But an investigative report done for the city by a consultant cites $8,070.05 as missing from 19 envelopes.

Subsequent investigations in response to the missing cash -- by the police force itself and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement -- acknowledge the policies and procedures that were in place were flawed, but neither comes close to bringing to justice those who committed the thefts.

"No suspected criminal activity was identified,” FDLE concluded in its report.

But a Sarasota-based consultant hired by the city, Robert A. Brongel, a retired investigator with the Florida Division of Insurance Fraud, concluded in his own investigation last November that although criminal charges could be tough to pin on individuals who may have committed a crime because the policies and procedures in place were either weak or not complied with at all in some instances.

Regardless of proving criminal intent, the initial NSBPD press release never mentioned the extent of the total monies discovered as "missing" -- in excess of $8,000, a far cry from the $1,220 stated in that press release. 

And while no mention was made as to City Hall's knowledge or stake in the handling of the situation, Headline Surfer has learned that although the press release was emailed by the police department's assigned PIO, Master Sgt. Eugene Griffith, he said he didn't write it, which was confirmed by him as well as Interim Police Chief Michael Brouillette. Rather, it was the city's public relations specialist, Holly Smith, who crafted the release under the direct supervision of City Manager Pam Brangaccio.

The press release contained an editor's note at the top stating the actual investigative reports could be accessed by contacting City Clerk Johnny Bledsoe. However, the e-mail was sent out out by Griffith at 5:03 p.m. that Friday, with municipal offices, including Bledsoe's, having closed at 5 p.m.

Just as troubling as the police scandal itself first brought to the attention of police administrators and Brangaccio in February 2011, and subsequently cast a black cloud on law enforcement, is the growing suspicion of a cover-up.

Why the press release was generated eight days ago has not been explained nor has any explanation been forthcoming from City Hall as to why none of this was told to the public during the high profile search for a new police chief that resulted in last month's hiring of George Markert, a 28-year veteran of the Rochester, N.Y., Police Department.

Tolley, who already has filed a series of complaints with the Florida Commission on Ethics against Brangaccio and Mayor Adam Barringer, is convinced the limited flow of information and timing of its release was orchestrated by Brangaccio herself with the mayor and commissioners content to let her take the lead while keeping them out of the spotlight.

But Tolley is emphatic her handling of the situation in the police department has far greater consequences for public mistrust than even the ethics complaints he filed against her and the mayor for organizing a "private" retirement party in November for longtime Commissioner Jim Hathaway and 40-plus guests at Barringer's wine-bar restaurant with a city credit card to foot the bill.

Tolley's second ethics complaint was in reaction to Barringer calling police officer Ralph Hunnefeld a "pr-ck" because he would not let the mayor cut through a closed side street before the start of the Christmas parade. After Hunnefeld filed a formal complaint, it was Brangaccio who set up a private meeting in her office where the cop felt he was forced to accept a scripted apology.

And as egregious as Tolley believes the allegations are in the earlier pending ethics complaints against Brangaccio and Barringer, he sees her handling of the police situation as cause for termination from her $125,000 post. Especially after learning investigative documents were purposely held back and the press release shipped out after hours.

"This is a deliberate fraud perpetrated by the city manager on the public and the press," Tolley said earlier today, adding, "This happened on her watch and she was well aware how far reaching the extent of the missing monies unaccounted for. God only knows what else is missing or stolen besides the substantial amount of cash that she intentionally understated."

Citizen watchdog Bob Tolley / Headline SurferCitizen watchdog Bob Tolley is shown here at left seated near the press table at New Smyrna Beach City Hall on Sams Avenue. 

"This is a deliberate fraud perpetrated by the city manager on the public and the press," Tolley said earlier today, adding, "This happened on her watch and she was well aware how far reaching the extent of the missing monies unaccounted for. God only knows what else is missing or stolen besides the substantial amount of cash that she intentionally understated."

Even more disturbing to Tolley is that "the elected officials, like the public and the press, have apparently been misled and kept in the dark as to the magnitude of this scandal, especially since she and other senior officials in the police department and at city hall have known about it for several years." 

Commissioner Kirk Jones told Headline Surfer on Thursday he hadn't been told anything by Brangaccio about the situation with the police department.

"Two weeks ago, I got a call with a head's up from (Assistant City Manager) Khalid (Resheidat) that the might be a story coming in the media about missing money or something like that and he just wanted me to be aware," Jones said.

When informed by Headline Surfer that the press release on the missing money was not done by the police department, but rather through city hall under Brangaccio's direction, Jones, the first-year commissioner, was taken aback, responding, "Wow!"

When informed by Headline Surfer that the press release on the missing money was not done by the police department, but rather through city hall under Brangaccio's direction, Jones, the first-year commissioner, was taken aback, responding, "Wow!"

Neither the city manager nor the mayor have returned numerous messages from Headline Surfer. Neither has Resheidat nor Commissioners Reiker, Grasty or McGuirk.

 

 

 

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Short Bio

Henry Frederick is publisher of Headline Surfer®, the award-winning 24/7 internet news outlet covering the Daytona Beach-Sanford-Orlando metro area via HeadlineSurfer.com since 2008. A longtime cops & courts reporter focused on breaking news & investigative reporting, Frederick is among the Sunshine State's most prolific daily news reporters, having amassed close to a hundred award-winning byline stories nearly evenly split in print and digital platforms. Frederick earned his Master of Arts in New Media Journalism with academic honors from Full Sail University in Winter Park in February 2019. He was a metro reporter with the Daytona Beach News-Journal for nearly a decade and then served as a city editor for the Taunton Daily Gazette in Taunton, Mass, while maintaining a residence in Central Florida. Prior to moving to Florida, Frederick was a metro reporter for the Rockland Journal-News in West Nyack, NY, for seven years. Headline Surfer was named the Sunshine State's top internet news site by the Florida Press Club in 2018.