July 24, 2014

Elyria
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Lab director’s $341,000 equipment deal apparently escaped review by county officials

The door to the county Forensic Lab at the old County Courthouse  is shown on Thursday. STEVE MANHEIM/CHRONICLE

The door to the county Forensic Lab at the old County Courthouse is shown on Thursday. STEVE MANHEIM/CHRONICLE

ELYRIA — Prosecutors and court staff are trying to determine how a contract for equipment and supplies was signed by Emmanuel de Leon, director of the county’s Crime Lab and Forensics Lab, in 2010 seemingly without being approved by his superiors or undergoing a legal review.

“This contract should have been reviewed legally,” Lorain County General Division Court Administrator Tim Lubbe said. “This contract should have been reviewed by my office.”

de Leon

de Leon

Records provided by county Auditor Craig Snodgrass’ office indicate that Siemens Healthcare Diagnostics Inc. has been paid $202,797.18 so far under the five-year contract. The contract was to reimburse Siemens for the use of a V-Twin drug testing analysis system.

Lubbe wrote in an email to county Administrator Jim Cordes last week that at least one communication from Siemens indicated that the county still had an outstanding balance of $139,000 and that the contract “has been in default for more than a year.”

Lubbe said Thursday that he and his staff are still reviewing the contract, which de Leon signed on June 21, 2010, and he can’t say if those figures are correct or if there is an arrearage until that process is complete.

De Leon has been on paid administrative leave since Nov. 21 because of allegations that he ignored a court order to destroy a Ziploc bag of prescription drugs. Lubbe has said de Leon twice denied knowing where the drugs were before acknowledging that he had them. Lubbe said de Leon claimed he kept the pills to use as standards for calibrating lab equipment used to test drugs seized as evidence in police investigations.

According to a letter scheduling a disciplinary hearing sent to de Leon earlier this month, he was also accused of misconduct in connection with the disappearance of two guns and a police scanner from the evidence room maintained by the Lorain County Adult Probation Department.

Lubbe and Administrative Judge James Burge have said they found no evidence a crime was committed. The disappearance of the drugs and guns was discovered as the Probation Department was clearing out its evidence room after the judges implemented a policy barring probation officers from seizing items.

De Leon’s disciplinary hearing was canceled after he resigned as chief deputy probation officer last week. Despite being on paid leave, de Leon has continued to work for the county certifying lab results because he is the only employee in the county with the necessary qualifications to do so. He is slated to be laid off Jan. 31.

Assistant County Prosecutor Gerald Innes said Thursday that he too is reviewing the Siemens contract at the request of Lubbe. Innes, who typically reviews county contracts before they are signed, said he had never seen that particular contract before.

He said there are several changes to the contract that he would have made if he had reviewed it. For instance, Innes said, he never would have recommended approving a contract that is supposed to comply with Illinois rather than Ohio law, as the Siemens contract does.

Innes also said he can find no record of a certificate of available funds, something required under Ohio law for public contracts. The idea behind the certificate, Innes said, is for public bodies to certify that they have the money to pay for the services or items being purchased through a contract.

“That is a hard-and-fast law,” Innes said. “It’s supposed to be there.”

Innes said that alone could invalidate the contract, although the county would remain liable for whatever goods and services they’ve already utilized from Siemens.

Purchase orders sent to the county commissioners to approve paying the Siemens bills, however, contained language indicating that there were sufficient funds to cover the contract when it was signed and when the bill was paid.

Cordes said the paperwork would have come over from the Probation Department and then have been included with other bills the commissioners were approving at their weekly meetings.

He said he and the commissioners wouldn’t have given the paperwork more than a cursory look if the bill was for lab supplies. He said if the bill had been unusual, such as the Crime Lab ordering a significant amount of lumber, it would have been investigated more thoroughly.

Innes said another problem with the contract is that it’s between Siemens and Lorain County Forensic Services, but no such legal entity exists within county government. He said even though the entrance to the Crime and Forensics labs is marked by a sign that says “Forensic Services,” that doesn’t mean that name can be used legally used to enter into contracts.

Cordes and the commissioners are preparing to restructure the Crime Lab in the wake of a decision by the county’s General Division judges to shutter the Forensics Lab for financial reasons as of Jan. 31. The two labs now share staffing and space in the basement of the old Lorain County Courthouse.

Without the financial support of the Forensics Lab, where probationers undergo drug testing, Cordes has said the Crime Lab, where drug and other evidence is tested as part of criminal investigations, won’t have the funding to survive for long. The commissioners voted Wednesday to put a property tax levy to support the Crime Lab on the May ballot.

The commissioners Wednesday tabled a proposal from Cordes to have de Leon remain on the county payroll after Jan. 31 to continue to certify lab results.

Cordes said Thursday that he is examining alternatives in case de Leon ends up not working for the county after the Forensics Lab closes.

He also said there needs to be an effort to restore public faith in the Crime Lab following a review by the Ohio State Board of Pharmacy that found there were security and accountability problems at the facility and the public disclosure of the allegations against de Leon.

The best way to do that, he said, would be to undergo the process of getting the Crime Lab accredited. He said there is no legal requirement for the lab to have accreditation, but that the increased scrutiny of that process could be good for the lab, which law enforcement believes is vital to police work in the county.

Still Cordes said the Crime Lab can’t be accredited without an extensive overhaul.

“Does Lorain County need its own crime and drug analysis lab? Absolutely,” he said. “Are we prepared to become an accredited lab? Not at all.”

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com.

  • SniperFire

    ‘De Leon has been on paid administrative leave since Nov. 21 ‘

    What’s the weather like in Aruba today?

  • stillsleepyeyes

    coming soon…………..a new tax to support this non regulated spending from these people…………….

    • Phil Blank

      You are correct!
      I read it in yesterday’s Journal!

  • Don Grantzki

    Why is it that we read the same names when discussing problems in this county that we were reading ten years ago? TERM LIMITS FOR ALL!!

  • jz

    Higher property taxes to pay for drug testing probationers so a judge can yell at them, or extend their probation, or send them to prison where we will pay to house them for a non violent drug offense. It practically takes a probationer to be convicted of a new felony offense while on probation now to be sent to prison. And it makes sense for us to pay more in property taxes to continue the same insane policies? People. The whole system needs revamped from 1st base to home plate. The Republicans under Voinivich and his brothers construction company built umpteen new prisons and the private prison industry flourished for awhile and here we are talking higher property taxes for urine tests for people whose use or abuse of marijuana or other drugs, including alcohol, is merely incidental to an already antisocial personality. In other words they are criminals who happen to get high. These are probably 80 percent of the probation population. We have too many people in elected positions, some who mean well, but they lack ability to say no too the status quo, bullheaded ways of doing things partly out of fear from public opinion and from fear of the ones truly pulling the strings.

  • bigmacky

    bewildered expression – paid vacation (admin leave) what a sad state of affairs lorain county is in

    • stillsleepyeyes

      and he is still working………………..but suspended……………..how is that………..?

      • skip57

        Because we have these concepts called……due process…….innocent until proven guilty……all clearly described in this thing called the Constitution. Try reading it sometime.

        • stillsleepyeyes

          why thank you for that opinion……………..but no where in my opinion did I say he was guilty…………and I can read too………..paid administrative leave I believe it still means they collect their pay check but are not aloud to show up at work………………

  • ekwaykway

    How many people have been convicted with ” evidence ” from this Keystone crime lab?

  • formerlorainresident

    Time to shut down their troubled drug testing lab and outsource the work to an accredited, reputable lab.

    Have to wonder how many cases will now be dismissed due to this negligence.

    Also, how could someone send payments to a vendor, over $300k, without several persons having to sign off on such a significant purchase. Looks like mismanagement by several persons, not just Mr. de Leon.

    Maybe this is why he was granted leave with pay. Just in the hope he goes away quietly, without pointing any fingers at others in the county.

    There are other just as responsible here. Get rid of them all.

  • oldruss

    When the levy hits the November ballot, we need to keep this little fiasco in mind.
    Oh, yeah, let’s throw some more tax dollars down the crapper!

    Where was the County Auditor when he was shoveling out that $208,000? If the purported contract has not been authorized by the County Commissioners, how was it that the County Auditor paid anything to the vendor on an illegal contract? Let’s hope Snodgrass’ errors and omissions insurance is up to date. The taxpayers ought to recoup that $208,000.

    • levtrotsky

      Snodgrass was busy approving Mark Stewarts heist of $17,000 from the county coffers…….same game different faces! ( and still no Grand Jury indictment of Stewart, surprised??)

    • Guest

      ‘When the levy hits the November ballot, we need to keep this little fiasco in mind.’ Yeah, right. The low information morons pull the “D’ lever, regardless.

    • oldruss

      Another story from the Chronicle-Telegram today says that a contract was approved by Kalo and Kokowski, and a poster, “formerlorianresident”, kindly posted a transcript of the Resolution by the commissioners approving the purported contract. One little problem however, the contract approved by the Commissioners was for some $98,000, and the County Auditor has already shoveled out some $208,000 to Siemens. Now, there may very well be a simple explanation for why the contract signed by de Leon was different than the contract approved by the commissioners, and more to the point, why there is such a discrepancy between what the county has paid and the amount stated in the purported contract.

  • Level headed

    It appears that the Commissioners signed off on this equipment. The scary thing is that no one noticed that until we blamed a public employee of wrong doing.

  • Level headed

    Keep digging Brad Dicken and I think you are going to get the true story here. Maybe talk to some of the Courthouse employees about Cwalina and Lubbe. deleon has yet to be charged with anything and he has Jonathan Rosenbaum as his attorney. Rosenbaum usually won’t take a client or case he can’t reap proceeds from.

  • grannyof6

    de Leon still needs to be held accountable! What were his qualifications to run these departments? What and where is his expertize in these fields from? What’s his degree in? Is he a physician, nurse, social worker, criminal justice or just a part of the probation department? How long has he gotten away with this, he’s incompetent! He’s a snake and has been sneaking through the grass way to long!