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State Suspends Riverside Drug Bureau Chief

Law enforcement: He is accused of neglecting his duty and poorly managing office where $3 million in cocaine was stolen last year. He denies the charges.

September 15, 1998|ERIC LICHTBLAU | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The agent in charge of the state's drug enforcement effort in the Inland Empire has been hit with a rare five-day suspension for his "inexcusable neglect of duty" in supervising his bureau, where more than $3 million worth of cocaine was stolen last year, state records show.

Management was so shoddy at the state Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement's Riverside operation that a search of the evidence vault discovered 31 kilos of cocaine in storage that had been mistakenly marked as "destroyed," state officials said in a disciplinary report. And the special agent in charge of the office, Edward J. Synicky, couldn't account for all the people who had keys to the vault, officials found.

Synicky, a 27-year veteran of the state's drug enforcement agency, also is accused of allowing a few employees--as well as his own daughter--to illegally take home office computers.

The state Justice Department ordered Synicky in June to serve a five-day suspension, but he has appealed to the state Personnel Board in Sacramento, which is scheduled to consider his request at a closed-door session today.

The action against Synicky is a rare one. It has been 17 years since a special agent of his stature at the narcotic bureau has faced formal discipline, state officials said.

Synicky said the accusations against him are "just one side of the story," but he declined to comment on the charges in any detail.

He said he is optimistic that the suspension will be overturned. "All I am is a working cop. All I want to do is put people in jail for the rest of my career," he said.

The 38 sworn agents in Synicky's bureau, which is responsible for Riverside and San Bernardino counties, have scored some big busts in recent years, particularly in battling the dramatic rise of methamphetamine. But their record was tainted last summer when agents returned from the Independence Day weekend to discover that 650 pounds of cocaine, worth more than $3.2 million, had disappeared from their office. It was the largest quantity of drugs ever taken from a Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement office.

The theft remains unsolved.

A veteran agent from the Inland Empire bureau faces trial on cocaine trafficking charges. The agent, Richard W. Parker, who was arrested in July in what began as a routine drug sting, was found to have a secret cache of a dozen cars and $620,000 in cash, authorities said. Parker had been working in the bureau's Riverside office at the time of the 1997 cocaine theft, but state officials have refused to say whether they believe he may have been involved.

Authorities have pledged to tighten security in the Riverside office by installing recording devices and other measures. But in moving to suspend Synicky, state officials suggested that the man responsible for implementing those changes was partly to blame for the problem.

A June 11 notice against Synicky listed three reasons for his suspension under the state government code: inefficiency, inexcusable neglect of duty and misuse of state property.

The cocaine stolen from the Riverside bureau last year had been seized in a drug raid in Orange County several years earlier and was supposed to have been used by Synicky's agents in an upcoming sting operation.

But several standard safeguards appear to have been ignored along the way, state officials found.

No chemical analysis was done on the cocaine after its receipt. Keys to the evidence vault were not changed each time someone transferred out of the office. And Synicky was unaware of at least four people who had the keys and the combination to the vault, according to the disciplinary report, which is known as an "adverse action."

Meanwhile, a three-day audit turned up misplaced evidence from 85 other cases that mistakenly had been listed in bureau records as destroyed, including dozens of kilos of cocaine.

Synicky also was criticized for allegedly misappropriating state property by allowing four bureau employees and his own daughter to take home computers and printers.

In his defense, Synicky told investigators that he knew nothing about a memo sent to his office last year with "a reminder that it is illegal to take state equipment for personal use." But investigators produced conflicting testimony from a supervisor who said Synicky had in fact been shown the memo before the computers were disbursed.

State officials warned Synicky that they "will not tolerate further such conduct on your part" and that "any continuance of such inefficiency or mismanagement" could result in his being fired.

Times staff writer Tom Gorman contributed to this report.

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