Home News Evidence disarray at Queens DA’s office raises questions about jeopardizing cases

Evidence disarray at Queens DA’s office raises questions about jeopardizing cases


The Queens DA is trying to dig out from a mountain of improperly cataloged evidence, with ongoing uncertainty over how many cases may have been  compromised as a result of the bureaucratic boondoggle, the Daily News has learned.

The problem initially came to light in 2022, and efforts have been underway since to address the issue.

What they’ve found, based on an internal review, is that after looking at more than 1,000 pieces of evidence, including guns, cash, jewelry and at least five DNA swabs, numerous items were never even vouchered — including several computer hard drives and guns and a diamond worth about $40,000, according to a source familiar with the review. That forced the DA’s office to go back and figure out to which cases the evidence belongs.

In many other cases, the vouchers were incomplete — with some of the evidence that was supposed to be in holders missing — or were not properly filled out with the required information, the source said.

A spokesperson for District Attorney Melinda Katz said Katz “took comprehensive, painstaking steps to catalogue and re-organize this system.”

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Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz. (Shawn Inglima/for New York Daily News)

Shawn Inglima/for New York Daily News

Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz. (Shawn Inglima/for New York Daily News)

But the spokesperson wouldn’t say if any cases — some of which go back more than 20 years — were adversely affected or if defense lawyers have been alerted to any of the findings.

She also declined to say why the city Department of Investigation, which has jurisdiction over the city’s five district attorneys, was not notified. Diane Struzzi, a DOI spokeswoman, said she could not comment on a matter to which it was not alerted.

The problem in Queens came to light in August 2022 when $3,500 was found in a safe, stuffed in an envelope, with the name of an investigator on it, two sources familiar with the probe said.

The discovery of that money, determined to be part of a gun case involving the NYPD, sparked an internal months-long review that turned up the evidence in some 800 vouchers that were linked to at least 150 cases. Vouchers often hold more than one piece of evidence.

Typically, evidence is stored in boxes, plastic bags or other holders, with information detailing the items, the case involved and the names of those who have handled the evidence. A separate log tracking those who checked the evidence in or out is also maintained.

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NYPD Crime Scene Technicians are seen processing objects in a empty lot located in front of 11-16 Foam Place in Far Rockaway, Queens. (Luiz C. Ribeiro for New York Daily News)

Luiz C. Ribeiro/for New York Daily News

NYPD Crime Scene Technicians are seen processing objects in a empty lot located in front of 11-16 Foam Place in Far Rockaway, Queens. (Luiz C. Ribeiro for New York Daily News)

But the review found a system in disarray, the sources said, with the log missing.

According to one of the sources, for at least 37 vouchers, 10 of them for murder cases, the evidence in question — including a Rolex watch, a knife and clothing — were nowhere to be found. In scores of other cases, the evidence was incomplete.

Other evidence, the sources said, was found not in safes or locked rooms but in unsecure locations, such as desk drawers.

“Everything had to be re-inventoried,” the source said. “There was no clear system in place — and who knows if there is evidence that was never vouchered and got thrown out? It raises major chain of custody questions. And even if the cases are closed, what if there’s an appeal?”

Of the 829 total vouchers, 543 were linked to investigations conducted by the DA’s office. The remaining 286 vouchers were linked to NYPD cases, the evidence for which was given to the DA’s office for trial prosecutions.

It wasn’t clear how many active cases, if any, have been linked to the evidence vouchers, and how many are cases that have been adjudicated. Evidence for cases ending in a conviction or dismissal can become an issue if there is a motion to vacate a conviction or if a lawsuit is filed.

Timothy Rountree, a Legal Aid Society supervising lawyer, said the evidence review “raises serious questions on whether the New Yorkers impacted by this impropriety received a fair trial.”

“We implore the department to review further to ensure that our clients’ due process rights weren’t violated,” he said.

But Diane Peress, a former prosecutor who worked in Queens, and is now a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, noted that for cases long closed there were likely questions about the evidence that were asked and answered.

John Jay College adjunct professor Diane Peress
John Jay College adjunct professor Diane Peress

“Depending on the role the piece of evidence played in the cases would determine if notification is necessary or not necessary,” Peress said. “Every case would have to be looked at.”

The spokesperson said the DA’s office has “invested in a technological solution for property management which is currently in development.”

Meanwhile, according to one source, the DA’s office has returned to the NYPD evidence from at least 176 property vouchers, including at least 21 guns.

And more than $60,000 in cash that the DA’s office seized during various criminal investigations has finally been deposited in interest-bearing accounts, the source said. Another $4,700 was returned to the NYPD.

The DA’s office has also tried to contact the 500 or so people whose passports were never returned to them after a judge ordered them turned over when they were released following their arraignments.



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