December 18, 2014

Elyria
Cloudy
29°F
test

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.