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Lee Smith, the Asheville Police Department’s longtime former evidence manager, is scheduled to be sentenced next week for stealing drugs. His sentencing will open the door to release of an extensive audit of the evidence room’s holdings. Photo courtesy city of Asheville.

ASHEVILLE — Lee Smith, the Asheville Police Department’s longtime evidence manager who resigned under a cloud of suspicion in early 2011 and last year pleaded guilty to stealing drug evidence, will be sentenced Tuesday, June 17, according to the federal prosecutor’s office in Charlotte.

In an interview this week with Carolina Public Press, Buncombe County District Attorney Ron Moore reiterated that, as promised, he will release the contested audit of the APD’s evidence room, which might show the full extent of what was stolen from the room, once Smith is sentenced.

After 20 years of working in the evidence room, Smith resigned in February 2011, shortly after he was suspended. (See Smith’s main personnel record below.) A partial review of sensitive items in the room, which followed shortly thereafter, suggested that significant amounts of guns, cash and drugs had gone missing.

In March of last year, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that Smith had pleaded guilty to embezzling between $10,000 and $30,000 of drugs from the evidence room.

The department said that he could face a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, and that he had agreed to pay an as yet unspecified amount of restitution.

APD evidence audit finally on the verge of disclosure

Smith’s sentencing will be followed by a resolution of Asheville’s longest and most-publicized public records dispute, if the full audit of the evidence room is indeed released.

The document could show just how much evidence was stolen. The audit was commissioned by Asheville City Council in April 2011, and cost $175,000 in public money that was seized by law enforcement in counter-drug operations. It was conducted by a local firm, Blueline Systems and Services, that is headed by former Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office investigator Mike Wright.

The lengthy audit, which fills 15 binders, became the subject of a public records lawsuit filed by Carolina Public Press and four other local news outlets in 2012. A judge ruled against that challenge to make the document public, without issuing any further comment.

Now, Moore has said again that he’ll make the full report available for public inspection as soon as Smith is sentenced.

“I’m going to give it to you exactly how I got it,” he said.

Lee Smith’s personnel record from the city of Asheville

Lee Smith Personnel Record (PDF)
Lee Smith Personnel Record (Text)

Jon Elliston

Jon Elliston is the lead contributing open government reporter at Carolina Public Press. Contact him at jelliston@carolinapublicpress.org.

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