CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) - A contractor hired by Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart testified Tuesday that he found thousands of dollars worth of cash and jewelry in a storage room at the county jail where inmates’ belongings are stored.
The testimony came in a lawsuit by inmates who claim their belongings have been lost or stolen.
A video, which inmates claim supports their case, was shown to a federal jury Tuesday by former jail inmates who are suing Dart.
Five hundred dollars among thousands was discovered in the abandoned property room beneath the Cook County Jail. The workers who are counting that cash are also using diamond testers because of all the jewelry discovered.
The inmates who are suing claim they lost personal belongings while in the jail. Samuel Richards lost a leather jacket and some earrings.
“Upon my release, they couldn't find anything, and told me to just suck it up,” Richards said.
Leonard Szymanski needs special shoes because of a childhood accident, and he says the jail lost them too.
“It was a special pair of shoes. $973, total value,” Szymanski said.
Lawyers for the alleged victims claim the video, taken in 2011, shows that inmates' personal belongings were stored in a haphazard manner, with boxes stacked on top of boxes in a room that occasionally flooded with six inches of water.
Most of the video was taken by a company called HIRT. It was hired to create a database of everything stored there. The contractor who supervised the work testified that inside some 50-thousand plastic packages, more than $38,000 in cash was found and jewelry.
“Some of those rings were twenty, thirty thousand dollar rings, and they were just in the bags. We tested them and they were real diamonds. And they just put them back in the bags,” said plaintiff’s attorney Ken Flaxman.
The sheriff's office says those packages have been abandoned by inmates. In 2006, the state reduced the personal belongings that inmates could take with them when they move to state prisons. So, the county got stuck with their belongings.
As to complaints that from inmates who were released and found items missing, the sheriff's office says occasional mistakes occur, but there's no pattern of abuse.
“We couldn't disagree more strongly. We take great pride in taking care of not only the people that come into our custody, but everything that comes with them,” said Cara Smith, who is the sheriff’s chief of policy.
Smith says those packages filled with abandoned property are now catalogued and stored in a safe and dry place. She claims there's little that can be done with the property except hold onto it until it's claimed.