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State investigates inmates over theft of drugs, money from Highway Patrol office in Monroe

State authorities are investigating how inmates on a work detail at the N.C. Highway Patrol office in Monroe apparently managed to steal drugs and money from an evidence locker this week, officials confirmed Thursday.

On Monday, authorities discovered that $1,000 cash and 5.6 grams of what likely was white China heroin were taken from a storage locker earlier that day, officials said. Most of the money has been recovered, but the drugs have not turned up yet, said Keith Acree, spokesman for the N.C. Department of Public Safety.

The Department of Public Safety as well as the Highway Patrol are conducting internal investigations into the incident, said Acree and patrol spokesman 1st Sgt. Jeff Gordon. The Highway Patrol is handling the criminal inquiry into the theft.

“Any time there is an incident like this we want to take the opportunity to review policies and procedures,” Acree said.

The two inmates suspected of the theft were part of a crew of about 14 minimum-security inmates from the Brown Creek Correctional Institution in Polkton, officials said. Inmates had been doing heating and air conditioning work and painting at the Highway Patrol office on Fowler Secrest Road.

The crew was supervised by three people in the Department of Public Safety and a correctional officer from Brown Creek, Acree said, and that supervision will be part of the internal review.

While moving a desk, the two inmates apparently discovered a key to an evidence storage locker, removed the items then relocked the unit, officials said. The steel locker is the size of a four-to-six-tier filing cabinet, Gordon said.

He said the drugs and cash only affect one prosecution. That involved a Mecklenburg County case of a woman charged with reckless driving after being stopped for driving 125 mph in a 65 mph zone on Interstate 485. She also was charged with felony possession of drugs.

Gordon said he has spoken with the Mecklenburg County District Attorney’s Office, and “due to the tainting of evidence” the drug charge will have to be dismissed but the speeding-related charge will stand. A lab had not finished testing the drugs, which may be cocaine, although authorities believe it is heroin, he said.

The inmate construction program has been part of the state prison system for more than a century, Acree said, and has had few problems over the years while saving taxpayers millions of dollars.

Bell: 704-358-5696; Twitter: @abell
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