Mystery of the missing money: FBI befuddled by disappearance of $43,643

A veteran FBI agent in Illinois has been sentenced to serve five months in prison for lying about the disappearance of over $43,000. Interestingly, he was not accused of stealing the money.

A former FBI agent in Illinois has been sentenced to serve five months in prison after pleading guilty to submitting a false evidence inventory receipt for more than $43,000 in seized drug money that somehow went missing and has never been recovered.

Jerry Nau of Peoria, Ill., was also ordered to serve five months of house arrest and pay $43,643 in restitution to the US government.

US District Judge James Shaddid handed down the sentence Tuesday.

The case is interesting because despite an extensive internal Justice Department investigation and the involvement of a small army of local and federal investigators, Mr. Nau was only charged with submitting a false document. There is no formal allegation – or finding – that he had lost, misapplied, or stolen the funds.

And yet the money is gone.

Nau was a career law enforcement officer, having spent nearly 20 years in the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the US Marshals Service.

At the time of his arrest, Nau had $15,000 in credit card debt, an $800-a-month alimony obligation, and three dependant daughters, one of  whom is unmarried and  expecting a child, according to court documents.

The missing $43,000 had been seized from Adrain Robinson, a major cocaine dealer in Peoria, who is currently serving a life prison sentence following his 2009 conviction. Nau was the case agent responsible for Mr. Robinson’s conviction.

Most of the money was found in a basement heating duct in Robinson’s home during a court-authorized search. Agents found $3,733 in cash on Robinson when he was taken into custody.

Questions about the missing money arose months before Robinson’s October 2009 trial. In August, Nau told federal prosecutors that the $43,000 had been administratively forfeited and was no longer available as evidence, according to court files.

During the trial, Nau testified that the confiscated money had been put into a seizure fund account, court files say.

Later that month, after Robinson’s conviction, Nau advised a Peoria drug task force official that the funds had been moved to the FBI, prosecutors say.

In January 2010, FBI officials asked Nau about the cash. He assured them he was “taking care of that right now,” according to court documents.

A federal judge issued the final order of forfeiture for the $43,643 in May 2010, but the whereabouts of the cash itself was still a mystery.

In June 2010, Nau told his FBI supervisor that he had verified with Peoria law enforcement officials that the money was with them, prosecutors say.

On July 1, 2010, Nau faxed an evidence inventory and receipt form to his FBI supervisor. It said the missing money had been recounted and placed into evidence. The form included signatures from two other law enforcement officials.

The problem was that the signatures turned out to be forgeries – and the money was still nowhere to be found.

By September 2010, the Justice Department Inspector General’s office entered the fray. Nau told them the money had been held at the Peoria FBI office, but when he went to recover it for the Robinson trial he discovered it was gone.

He said he panicked and then lied to the prosecutor about the whereabouts of the cash. He told the Inspector General agents that he was hopeful the money would “show up.”

“Beyond the perjury and the inconsistency in his earlier statements, Nau’s explanation defies logic and is not credible,” Assistant US Attorney James Warden wrote in his sentencing memorandum in Nau’s case.

“It is contrary to reason that a veteran FBI agent who has innocently misplaced drug money evidence would keep that to himself and simply hope that it would ‘show up,’ ” he wrote. “Logically, the agent would notify his supervisor and his colleagues and seek their assistance in locating the missing evidence.”

Mr. Warden continued: “Instead, Nau also suggested that another agent who had retired from the FBI in March 2009 may have stolen the funds. That claim is without merit and reprehensible.”

Warden called Nau’s behavior “contemptible.” He said, “What further aggravates the facts here are the continuing false statements of [Nau] and his forgery of the signatures of two other law enforcement officers whom he falsely claimed would substantiate his false statements. The impact of his criminal conduct is startling.”

The mystery of the missing money did not escape the notice of Robinson’s defense counsel. The lawyer raised the issue in an appeal to the Seventh US Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago.

Judges Richard Posner, Diane Wood, and Ann Williams dismissed the appeal Dec. 15, 2010, ruling in part that “neither the whereabouts of the money nor the agent’s credibility was crucial to the verdict [in the Robinson drug case].”

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