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Updated: 06/26/2012 7:49 AM
Created: 06/25/2012 6:25 PM | Print |  Email
By: Mark Albert

Lost, Stolen State Property Adds Up, But Nobody Counts

Among the four dozen computers, the more than two dozen boats and canoes, and the 20 cell phones all owned by state government that have gone missing since July 2010, are the items that truly stand out: the whitetail deer head, the two ladies watches, a snow plow, and a John Deere lawn mower.

All have gone missing or can't be documented, worth tens of thousands of dollars - if not more - in taxpayer money.

"This is serious business," Curt Yoakum, director of communications and Legislative affairs at the Minnesota Department of Administration, said in an interview Monday.

"(State agencies) have a responsibility as a steward of taxpayer dollars to protect that material."

But despite how seriously agencies say they document stolen, lost or recovered government property, 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS found no single state agency tracks the total value of how much disappears, how often it occurs, or which agencies lose the most.

"These are lean budget times," said Yoakum. "Every agency is responsible for making up for (lost property)... in their existing budget."

The Office of Legislative Auditor has chided several state agencies before for lax inventory controls or failing to report equipment thefts in individual agency audits.

While some property reports filled out by agency employees list the estimated value of the stolen items - for example, a combined $38,671.74 in lost radios - other reports don't, thus making a true accounting extremely difficult, officials acknowledge. Some items are too old to estimate a value or the value is unclear, explained Yoakum.

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS recently reviewed stolen, lost or recovered property reports filed with the Minnesota Department of Administration for fiscal year 2011 and the first nine months of fiscal year 2012.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, which owned the canoes and boats that disappeared, said it has since implemented reforms and that 99% of its 19,000 assets at 500 sites across the state are currently accounted for.

"We have a very rigorous inventory accounting system," said DNR communications director Chris Niskanen. "We started making improvements to it in 2010. We've dramatically increased our ability to track these assets," he said.

To find out some of the other items missing, watch our report above.