BLUEFIELD, W.Va. (AP) -- A former Beckley Police Department employee will spend four years on probation for stealing pain pills from an evidence locker.
Thirty-one-year-old Gabriella Brown was working as an evidence technician when the department announced last summer that oxycodone was missing. She pleaded guilty to stealing 22 pills in December.
The Associated Press says Brown apologized and told U.S. District Judge David Faber in Bluefield that she was mortified by her own actions.
Her attorneys argued sending her to jail would jeopardize her safety because of her ties to law enforcement.
Prosecutors argued that her crime has far-reaching ramifications for hundreds of drug cases in Raleigh County, many of which could be thrown out due to possible evidence tampering.
Gabriella Brown, 31, of Beckley, W.Va., committed a federal felony by obtaining controlled substances by misrepresentation, fraud, forgery, deception and subterfuge.
The Beckley Police Department announced in August that prescription pain pills were missing from its evidence room. Brown was employed as the Department's evidence technician at the time the missing evidence was revealed.
On Aug. 16, 2012, a Beckley Police Department officer placed a container with 59 15-milligram oxycodone and 16 30-milligram morphine pills into an evidence locker to be entered and logged into the evidence room database.
The officer had obtained the pills from a local pain clinic. An employee of the pain clinic had filled out a report prior to giving the pills to the officer. The employee had counted the pills and noted there were 59 15-milligram oxycodone and 16 30-milligram morphine pills in the container.
The officer noted that there were 59 15-milligram oxycodone and 16 30-milligram morphine pills on a property control form that was filled out at the time he placed the pills into the evidence locker.
Brown admitted that the following day, she removed the pills from the evidence locker to log the quantity of pills into the evidence room records and stole 22 of the 15-milligram oxycodone pills from that container.
On Aug. 17, 2012, a detective from the Beckley Police Department went to Brown to obtain the pills from the evidence room. The detective retrieved the pills from Brown and counted the pills in front of the defendant on two occasions.
Brown admitted that there were only 37 15-milligram oxycodone pills in the container. The detective asked Ms. Brown, “Is this it?” Brown admitted that she responded, “This is it,” in reference to the pill count.
Brown further admitted that she was addicted to opiates and had stolen oxycodone and other prescription pain medicine containing opiates from the Beckley Police Department’s evidence room on several other occasions.
Brown faces up to four years in prison and a $250,000 fine when she is sentenced on April 22, 2013.
Prosecuting Attorney Kristen Keller told the Associated Press on Wednesday that police notified her of the missing evidence.
Evidence rooms serve as holding facilities for items such as money, drugs and guns obtained during investigations.
Keller explained that once evidence control is compromised, the prosecutor's office has no choice but to dismiss the charges. Previous convictions or guilty pleas also could potentially be vacated.
Thursday, the U.S. Attorney's Office and a new Drug Enforcement Agency squad took the lead on the investigation of the Beckley Police Department.
"I have talked to Beckley Police Chief Tim Deems and Raleigh County Prosecutor Kristen Keller," said Booth Goodwin, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia told our NBC partner WVVA. "They asked for and welcomed our leadership in this investigation."
Goodwin says, under the direction of his office, the investigation will be handled by the DEA Tactical Diversion Squad. Goodwin told NBC partner WVVA, the squad was set up at the beginning of July, due to the rampant prescription drug problem in West Virginia.
Another concern Goodwin spoke about was that some federal drug cases have Beckley Police involvement. "We're reviewing our case load to see if any federal cases were potentially compromised," Goodwin told WVVA.
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