Investigation: Missing State Property

Last Edited: Monday, 04 Feb 2008, 10:22 PM CST
Created: Monday, 04 Feb 2008, 9:06 PM CST

You paid for it, they lost it. FOX 4’s Becky Oliver has been on the hunt for missing state property, and we’re not talking about pens and staplers. It’s actually thousands of desktop and laptop computers, hundreds of printers and fax machines, along with televisions, cameras, and other electronic gadgets galore, even guns. You paid for it all but now it's gone, missing from Texas state agencies.

“Every dollar is important,” says Allen Spelce with the State Comptroller’s office. “It’s the taxpayer’s dollars so you would hope that nothing is ever lost.”

But our investigation found 8,410 items reported missing or stolen from state agencies over the last two fiscal years. On the state’s missing list: a John Deere Tractor from Prairie View A&M, purchased for $13,521.00; a Polaris all-terrain vehicle from Texas Parks and Wildlife, bought for $5,902.00; a walk-in freezer from the Department of State Health Services, purchased for $9,650.

The University of North Texas reports losing a 50-inch Samsung HD television that cost $3,240 and a 61-inch Pioneer Plasma television that cost $6,997.

“One was in our athletic area and the other was in our research park,” explained UNT spokesperson, Kelley Reese. “I don’t have any details about what actually occurred in those instances. I only know the police were invited to look in to it and it was determined to be stolen.”

UNT campus police also investigated the disappearance of an Evinrude outboard boat motor, purchased for $6,187, and found it was stolen from an employee’s vehicle. UNT tags all new items and assigns them to individual employees but most of the items were reported “missing – no employee negligence.” Reese says the university aggressively tracks lost and stolen property.

State agencies are required by the legislature to report all missing assets to the comptroller annually. If the value of what’s missing is less than 2 percent of the agency’s total inventory, the agency gets a free pass with no penalties. If the lost value is more than the 2 percent margin, the Comptroller makes the agency pay for it from its operating budget. But the 2 percent is based on the depreciated value. UNT was able to stay below the 2 percent threshold and avoid penalties over the past two years.

Locally, The University of Texas at Dallas is missing the most of agencies based in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

“There’s a lot of reasons why things might go missing,” says UTD spokesperson, Meredith Dickenson. “We have 57 buildings on this campus and nearly 6,000 rooms and 100 departments. So, inventory does go missing.”

For the last two years, UTD mostly reported missing computers related equipment with a total purchase value of $377,013.11. But after the items were discovered missing, UTD reported the items were only worth $43,734.35, keeping the university below the 2% loss margin for the last two years. Most of UTD’s lost items were reported “missing – no employee negligence.”

The University of Texas at Austin is still celebrating a national championship and a top-ranked football program. But UT is also ranked at the very top for the most missing assets in the state. UT is reported missing $7,638,336.32 worth of stuff over the last two years.

“The reason we’re number one is we have the most items and they cost the most,” says UT Associate Vice President and Comptroller Fred Friedrich.

UT reported missing loads of expensive, high-tech gear, like a computer system that cost $1,000,000 and a laser that cost $198,516.00. But UT also reported missing a GMC cargo van.

“How does a van disappear?” asked FOX 4’s Becky Oliver. “A van disappears, in this case, because of a book-keeping issue,” Friedrich responded.

Friedrich says the University learned the van had actually been auctioned off. And that’s part of the problem, according to Friedrich, so many assets and not enough people to track them.

“It’s really not easy to find these things but we do the best we can with the time afforded to us,” said Friedrich.

UT reported the depreciated value of its missing items at $160,551.50 for the 2-year period, staying under the 2 percent cap.

UT isn’t the only state agency losing track of vehicles. The Texas Department of Agriculture reports missing a Dodge Ram Super cab Truck, purchased for $19,130. The General Land Office reports missing a 20ft airboat and trailer, purchased for $28,806. And the University of Texas Health Science Center in Tyler reports missing a forklift, purchased for $8,900.

The Texas Comptroller’s office says it is more concerned with the dollar value of what’s missing than what types of items are missing, as long as the agency stays under the 2 percent loss threshold.

But perhaps the most disturbing of all missing items reported are weapons. The list shows 38 missing pistols, rifles, and shotguns. 30 of those were reported missing from the Texas Department of Public Safety.

FOX 4 asked for an interview with DPS but instead received a statement saying, “None of the firearms listed on the Comptrollers Report have been recovered. DPS files police reports and places information about stolen firearms in to TCIC and NCIC. To our knowledge, none of these missing firearms has been involved in a crime."

St. Representative Dan Branch (R) Dallas sits on the House Appropriations Committee and chairs the Higher Education & Public Finance Select Committee. Branch says it’s a management issue and there’s only so much lawmakers can do beyond making agencies pay for more than 2 percent lost.

“If you’re losing property then there’s neglect, which is the root word for negligence,” Branch told FOX 4. “Property managers and department heads shouldn’t lose property. If you do it's unacceptable,” Branch continued. “If things are stolen they need better internal controls.”

For the last two fiscal years, state agencies have reported losing $27,674,574.20 worth of stuff. But the way the agencies count, after depreciation, it was all worth only $2,311,682.05. Practically chump change.

Itemized List of Missing Property (PDF, 495K)

Digital equipment stolen
Posted on Sun, Dec. 16, 2007
Star-Telegram Staff Writer

FORT WORTH -- Three computers, a digital projector and a DVD player were among the items stolen from Daggett Middle School during a break-in late Saturday night. On Monday, district officials did not have an estimate of the loss. Security alerted a custodian about the incident at the school, 1108 Carlock St., about 11:30 p.m., said Clint Bond, spokesman for the Fort Worth school district. The custodian arrived to find an auditorium door open. After checking the building, he discovered that someone had entered through Room 206. "The windowpane for that window was removed without it being broken," Bond said. Two computers were taken from that room. "The keyboards and monitors were left behind," Bond said. A projector, CD player, DVD player and two plastic containers were also gone. Bond said a clerk's computer, but not the keyboard or monitor, was also stolen. One computer had student and employee information, Bond said. Some teachers were concerned that their private information could be at risk.

Vandals steal 32 of school's laptops
Posted on Thu, Nov. 29, 2007
Star-Telegram Staff Writer

HALTOM CITY -- Police are investigating the theft of 32 laptops from a middle school over the weekend. The vandals also damaged other computers and desks, and splashed blue and black paint around the classroom at North Oaks Middle School, Haltom City police spokesman Cpl. Eric Peters said. A complete damage estimate was not available, but the laptops' value totaled more than $33,000, Peters said. Surveillance cameras caught three or four people, who appear to be teens or young adults, hauling out the loot about 4:40 a.m. Saturday, Peters said. The thieves apparently climbed onto the school's roof, then down into a courtyard, where they broke into the school through a classroom window, Peters said. The getaway vehicle appeared on the surveillance tape to be a small car, Peters said. "It's very frustrating," said Mark Thomas, spokesman for the Birdville district. "That's just taking computers away from kids." The district's insurance, which covers catastrophic losses, will probably not cover the laptops. The district does not have a time frame for when they will be replaced, Thomas said. The thieves did not take any desktop computers from the school's two computer labs. Laptops are used during regular classes. For example, an English teacher may have students use them for Internet research. "It may not change what they're doing, depending on the availability of the labs," said Thomas, referring to classes that may have been using the laptops for projects. "Or, they may have to use the library for research instead." Anyone with information about the theft is asked to call Detective R.A. Beshirs at 817-222-7027. Staff writer Terry Webster contributed to this report. MARK AGEE, 817-685-3821

Property-tracking system improves Texas vision
Mansfield News-Mirror
Friday, Nov. 30, 2007

AUSTIN - Texans now can register an inventory of their personal property, report property that has been stolen or check whether an item they are attempting to buy has been reported as stolen., a subsidiary of MyThings Inc., is collaborating with the Texas Police Chiefs Association, the Texas Department of Public Safety and more than 500 local Texas police departments and sheriff’s offices to make Texas stolen property files available to the public at The Trace online database includes all identifiable property reported stolen to the FBI by Texas law enforcement agencies. Texans can access the Trace database, free of charge, to: Research items before purchasing them to determine whether or not they are stolen. Report recently stolen property to law enforcement. Create a secure, anonymous inventory of their valuable property that could aid in recovering the property if it is ever stolen.

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