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Drug cases decline as Loudoun Sheriff restructures

The restructuring of the Loudoun County Sheriff's Office's Special Investigations Section, which included a narcotics division, did more than uncover an embezzlement crime within the ranks.

It teamed up deputies with regional and federal law enforcement agencies, that in turn, drew the specific focus away from Loudoun County and honed in on bigger, regional drug crimes that can also affect the county.

However, records show drug arrests in Loudoun County are significantly lower than comparable counties like Chesterfield in central Virginia.

From August 2013 to June 2014, the sheriff's office made 56 narcotics arrests; the Chesterfield County Police Department, with a population of 326,950, had 2,341 arrests in 2013.

Drug asset and forfeiture cases turned over to the Loudoun Commonwealth's Attorney’s Office from January 2013 to May 2014 totaled 52.

The Loudoun County Sheriff's Office, to pay back the money that was embezzled by a deputy who has since resigned, but has not yet been charged, took $45,925 out of an account used to make undercover drug buys.

Sheriff Mike Chapman declined to say how much money was stolen from the account, only that it's “significantly higher” than the amount already paid back.

As of March 3, the most updated information provided by the sheriff's office, there was $200 in the drug buy account.

Deputies use this money to make undercover buys, in turn taking drug dealers off the streets.

Authorities say this doesn't affect their ability to fight drug crime in Loudoun.

“I think we're probably bringing in better cases. I don't know that we're bringing in more cases because marijuana cases are pretty easy …,” Chapman said.

“It didn't affect our ability. We didn't make a decision not to pursue a case because there wasn't any [drug buy] money. We pursue every case. If we need to make a buy, we make a buy,” Maj. Richard Fiano said.

But since the county has seen a drastic increase in prescription drug and heroin overdoses in the last three years, Chapman said he believes his office is focusing exactly where it should.

In 2012, there were eight overdoses on heroin, two which were fatal. In 2013, the number increased to 18 with six deaths. This year, so far, there's been 16 overdoes with six deaths pending toxicology reports.

“Heroin is now our No. 1 priority,” Chapman said.

The restructure

In October 2013, spurred by an increase in drug overdoses, Chapman began restructuring the Special Investigations Section, which consisted of 21 deputies – half worked narcotics crimes, the other an anti-crime unit.

Loudoun saw its number of prescription drug overdoses go from 101 in 2012 to 179 in 2013 – a 77 percent increase. For the first half there's already been 104 overdoses – a 6 percent increase over the same time last year.

Chapman took that team and re-named it the Tactical Enforcement Unit. Leadership roles remained in place, but others began pulling double duty for the sheriff's office and regional and federal law enforcement groups. There are currently five vacancies in the unit.

The rest is made up of one deputy who was re-assigned in a leadership role with the Northern Virginia Gang Task Force. Another detective was assigned to a multi-jurisdictional task force that operates in Loudoun, Prince William and Fairfax counties, among others.

One deputy strictly works narcotics for Loudoun. Another has collateral duty working to fight human trafficking alongside the Northern Virginia Human Trafficking Commission.

“We wanted to get involved in that. We see a fair amount of massage parlors, prostitution areas. We see immigrants, both legal and non legal,” Fiano said.

Two detectives are assigned to the DEA's Washington/Baltimore High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) task force. This task force from October 2013 to June 2014 made 14 arrests and collected more than $4 million in asset seizures.

“You really get the bang for your buck when you put one of those guys in those task forces. Your overtime is paid for, your vehicle is paid for and you're working higher level cases. So not only are you working high-level cases that are bringing drugs into your county but the surrounding counties, but you're giving a trainee an experience at detective that he's normally not going to get working local cases. You get a wealth of information on how to target the command and control instruments used by drug organizations,” Fiano said. “... You start working smarter rather than harder.”

Chapman said by having two deputies there, the Loudoun County Sheriff's Office gets a bigger size of forfeiture assets back compared to what it would get locally.

One detective is assigned with a K-9 and is responsible for vehicle stops and search warrants, among many other duties.

One deputy takes on the role as the expert in prescription drug cases and, according to Fiano, has worked with every pharmacy in Loudoun to educate employees on how to spot a fake script and how to contact authorities should they see one. This deputy is also deputized as a DEA diversion investigator, giving him authority to work with the DEA on multi-jurisdictional operations.

“We can't do a drug deal without a source and supply, without buyers without sellers …. there's always a connection there. So just doing simple buys doesn't really get you much other than maybe a warrant to get the [drug] house … what we're trying to do is expand our investigations and get a knowledge of the networks where we will have a bigger impact at higher levels rather than just doing simple buys and attacking it from the bottom up,” Chapman said.

“It's certainly a philosophy with us because we [Chapman and Fiano] both come from different departments [the DEA] … We're able to bring varied perspectives into this,” Chapman said.

The embezzlement

As Chapman began restructuring the Special Investigations Section in October, he said detectives began to notice several anomalies.

In a nutshell, when deputies looked to return money seized from claimants they found the funds were not there – they had never been deposited.
Chapman, in part, blames the prior administration for the oversight.

However, a letter obtained by the Times-Mirror by former employee Michelle Draper, written to Chapman and copied to County Administrator Tim Hemstreet and Board Chairman Scott York on her last day of employment, says Chapman was unaware of the asset forfeiture policy prior to the embezzlement.

“To my knowledge, neither you nor the CID Commander knew LCSO's policy and procedure of how asset forfeiture funds were processed through Middleburg bank ...” Draper said.

Chapman said prior to the embezzlement, one deputy was in charge of the seized money. That deputy, in turn, was supposed to notify the sheriff's office's financial department and the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice of the deposit.

“If that's never done, there's no record of it. If it's a seasoned deputy, they're going to forget about it and figured it's handled,” Chapman said.

Chapman said the prior administration never changed this procedure, despite warnings from the state attorney general and county treasurer Roger Zurn that it opened the office up for embezzlement.

“Only if there's a claim on it, then all of sudden we've got to make good on that money. There was a separation of duties in the sense that when the money was counted, we had somebody verifying the money count but after that there was no separation of duties. So one person could actually manipulate where that money went and if they didn't tell our financial person or DCJS about a deposit they would never know,” Chapman said.

The sheriff said the system has been redesigned to ward off another anomaly.

“There's no way now to undermine the system. The system itself was not designed properly and even despite the fact that there was a objections to it, the prior administration never changed it back. They kept on going with a questionable system,” Chapman said.

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