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California and the West

Drug Agent's Suspension Overturned

Law enforcement: State Personnel Board instead reprimands chief of Riverside bureau for giving out too many keys to evidence vault.

September 16, 1998|ERIC LICHTBLAU | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The state Personnel Board on Tuesday overturned the suspension of a top drug enforcement official who was accused of "inexcusable neglect of duty," deciding instead to formally reprimand him for giving out too many keys to his bureau's evidence vault.

More than $3 million worth of cocaine was stolen last summer from the state Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement's Riverside office. The crime has never been solved, but it did lead to both stepped-up security and allegations of shoddy management against the head of the office, Special Agent Edward J. Synicky.

Synicky's bosses ordered him in June to serve a five-day suspension, the most severe punishment in 17 years against a state drug agent of his rank. He was accused of failing to follow standard safeguards in protecting evidence and misappropriating state property by allowing several employees, as well as his own daughter, to take home state computers.

But after considering Synicky's appeal in closed session, the Personnel Board decided on a 3-0 vote to "modify" the disciplinary action, handing him an official reprimand instead.

"That's a win," Synicky, a 27-year veteran of the drug agency, said when told of the board's decision. "An official reprimand is nothing I've ever received in my career, but it's the lowest form of discipline you can get. It goes in your file and it's usually removed after six months. . . . I am very pleased with this."

Board members gave no public explanation for their decision, but Walter Vaughn, executive officer for the panel, said: "Obviously they still consider it a serious matter. Otherwise, they would not have issued the reprimand."

An administrative law judge who first heard Synicky's appeal in August had recommended that the five-day suspension be upheld, Vaughn said. That was based on Synicky's failure to properly limit the number of employees who had keys to the bureau's evidence vault, he said.

Investigators found that Synicky was not even aware of several people who had keys and the combination to the vault, although it has not been determined whether any bureau employees--including one agent who has since been charged with drug trafficking--were responsible for the 1997 theft of about 650 pounds of cocaine at the office.

The administrative judge refused to uphold several other findings against Synicky, including allegations that he failed to ensure other safeguards for protecting drug evidence and that he allowed employees and his daughter to illegally take home office computers.

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