(This article was originally published on February 25, 2014)
Something was amiss at the Albuquerque BioPark.
It was December, and staffers at the city’s Cultural Services Department were reviewing some year-end numbers: 1.2 million visitors, $4 million in total revenues.
Something wasn’t adding up.
“Director Betty Rivera over at Cultural Services was looking at reports that listed a combination of revenue and visitors at the Bio Park and noticed some anomalies,” said John Soladay, the city’s chief operations officer.
Surveillance video obtained by KRQE News 13 provides the evidence for the cash drain city officials just couldn’t figure out.
At least three employees hired through a temp agency were stealing cash right out of the BioPark’s cash registers. They weren’t even all that sneaky about it.
The footage shows, irrefutably, that on some occasions, employees were taking money from the registers, hiding it under a counter, then slipping it into their wallets later.
Other snippets of video show employees hiding their thefts behind a sheaf of papers.
In nearly every instance, the employees can be seen scouting the horizon to make sure the coast is clear before they rip off city money.
To catch the thieves, city officials used their contract private eyes, Robert Caswell Investigations.
“We went into the cashiers’ area and installed hidden cameras — like this pinhole camera — over the cash register area,” Bob Casey of RCI said, showing off a camera the size of a nickel.
The cashiers had no idea the city was recording their every move.
In mid-January, RCI pulled the cameras and began the long slog of reviewing the footage.
“The tedious part was having to view the video very slowly to watch and catch … the sleight of hand: movement that would show us that the money was not getting into the cash register,” Casey told KRQE News 13.
The longtime investigator said he didn’t think much of the BioPark thieves. When asked how good they were at grafting city money, he responded: “Not very. They got caught.”
RCI confronted the employees with the video evidence. All three confessed to stealing money. The private eyes turned the case over to City Hall.
The city would not release the temp employees’ names because the case is now the subject of a criminal investigation.
City officials said they don’t know how much money the employees stole or for how long they were stealing.
“Once again I don’t have a good handle on that,” Soladay said. “I can’t even give you a good estimate. It could be a thousand dollars or it could be much more. We simply don’t know.”
Soladay said the temp employees underwent background checks before they came to work at the Bio Park.
“Each of these cashiers, temporary employees, had two background checks, one through (the temp agency) and one through the city,” Soladay said. “Nothing showed in any of those background checks.”
The employees were fired, and the video was turned over to police for the criminal investigation.
“If you steal from us we’re going to fire you and prosecute,” Soladay said. “Pure and simple.”