Two and a half years after the North Carolina Department of Public Safety bought millions of dollars worth of computers, more than 1,900 of them were unaccounted for, an investigation by the state auditor's office found.
State auditor Beth Wood told the Observer that it's unclear where those computers are and whether any were actually stolen.
"It is just as likely they are in a closet as they are in somebody's home," she said.
Still, Wood said, "What went down leaves the door wide open for theft."
The audit concluded that the agency failed to take basic steps to prevent the computers from being stolen.
The problem began in 2014 and 2015, when DPS bought more than 8,600 desktop and laptop computers, according to the audit. The computers were valued at more than $3.5 million.
The department distributed the computers to users, but didn't track and account for them, the audit says. For instance, the investigation found, the department didn't attach inventory tags to the computers or record the computers in their records. The department also didn't conduct an inventory of computer equipment for more than five years.
In a response to the audit, state DPS Secretary Erik Hooks said his agency would follow the auditor's recommendations for preventing loss and theft. Hooks' department oversees the state prisons as well as the Highway Patrol.
Only about 200 of the computers are currently unaccounted for, DPS spokesman Clyde Roper said Wednesday.
The investigation began with a tip to the auditor's hotline - 800-730-TIPS.
"This is just another example of the lack of accountability for how we've been spending taxpayer dollars," Wood said.