LAFAYETTE — Investigators routinely come across money — loose change found at a crime scene, or a few hundred dollars in the car of a suspected drug dealer that the driver never claims, possibly for fear it will be used as evidence against him.
At the Lafayette Police Department, the money has been recorded as evidence, then tucked away in a bank account.
A penny here, a dollar there, $500, $1,500.
“It’s been sitting there for years. Then someone started checking and said, ‘We have almost $300,000 here,’ ” said 15th Judicial District Attorney Michael Harson, whose office is filing petitions asking a judge to allow that money to be distributed to the Police Department and the District Attorney’s Office.
To be precise, the total is $340,664.90 in unclaimed cash, money tallied in 1,694 separate entries in the evidence log, according to figures from the police department.
Most of that money was collected within the past 25 years, but there are cases stretching as far back as 1957, Lafayette police spokesman Cpl. Paul Mouton said.
The money cannot be used without court approval, and even the smallest of recoveries — there are several cases involving less than $10 and one for just a penny — must be logged into evidence and kept.
“You can’t just throw it away. We have to put it in evidence,” he said.
A sampling of the old cases reveals that officers happened upon the money in a wide variety of circumstances.
Police found two pennies in the pocket of a burglary suspect, 63 cents at the scene of a homicide investigation and 56 cents in a recovered stolen vehicle.
One drug investigation yielded $500 in suspected illicit proceeds, and another, $1,363.
The police department and the District Attorney’s Office have worked to seek out people who might have a claim to the money and have published notices in the newspaper listing the dates and amounts of recovered cash, in case the information might trigger someone’s memory.
“We tried to send notices to as many people as we could identify,” Harson said.
So far, only about $2,200 has been returned to rightful owners, according to court filings.
After the expenses of publishing the newspaper notices are covered, Harson said, the police department would get 70 percent of the money and the District Attorney’s Office would get 30 percent, assuming a judge OKs the forfeiture.
The money would roll into the overall budgets of those two agencies, and Mouton said the police department has plans to use its share to help build a firearms training facility.