ALBANY — A former supervisory investigator for the state prison system is being prosecuted for allegedly forging evidence tracking documents in dozens of cases involving contraband seized in North Country correctional facilities.
Officials said that an investigation by the state Inspector General's Office determined Todd C. Johnson, who had worked as a senior narcotics division investigator for the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS), mishandled evidence in drug cases and submitted a fraudulent time sheet for overtime pay.
While being questioned by state officials looking into the alleged scheme, Johnson explained he kept evidence at his home — against his agency's rules — for his own "convenience" to avoid having to make an extra trip to the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, according to a state report on the matter.
Confronted with suspicions about the contraband — including weapons and drugs such as marijuana, synthetic cannabinoids and Suboxone strips — he brought to his home, Johnson, 55, stated to investigators: "It was wrong — time to retire," Inspector General Letizia Tagliaferro reported.
Johnson's alleged misconduct has had "significant" consequences for numerous cases that had been referred for prosecution to the district attorney's offices in Clinton, Franklin, St. Lawrence and Washington counties, Tagliaferro acknowledged.
Nine cases were rejected for prosecution due to concerns related to the alleged misconduct. In seven others, prosecutors have had to scramble to alert defense attorneys of the breaks in the chain of custody, according to the state report.
Johnson was charged with two felonies, second-degree forgery and first-degree filing of a false instrument. He also faces a misdemeanor charge of larceny for allegedly fudging his travel records, allowing him to collect overtime pay he didn't earn.
It was Johnson's job to transport criminal evidence from the prison system's Office of Special Investigations field office in Dannemora, to DOCCS headquarters in Albany for storage. Dannemora is the location of a drop safe used to temporarily store evidence used in cases for the Clinton, Upstate, Bare Hill, Altona and Franklin state prisons, as well as for Adirondack Adolescent Offender Facility.
State officials noted the custody of evidence bags must be closely tracked until they are disposed of following court proceedings.
Johnson was accused of deviating from the requirements by taking an evidence packet to his home in South Glens Falls after picking it up at the Dannemora field office on January 25. Three days later, he allegedly instructed a subordinate to forge the chain of custody information written on the evidence bag to make it appear that Johnson had just picked up the packet, state officials said.
After investigators reconstructed the chain of events surrounding how evidence ended up at Johnson's home in January, a more far-ranging review of the material he handled was conducted. That review found he may have falsified or directed the falsification of the chain of custody on a total of 98 other evidence bags since January 2017.
The inspector general pointed out there was no evidence Johnson mishandled evidence in cases focused on corrections officers. There was also no evidence Johnson tampered with evidence while it was in his possession.
According to state payroll records posted by the web site seethroughny.net, Johnson earned a total of $111,793 in state salary in 2018.
The inspector general's office urged the prison system to tighten its controls over seized contraband, recommending the agency acquire a digital scanning and tracking system. DOCCS will follow the recommendations, the report said.
The inspector general's report noted that the drop safe at Dannemora had no alarm system and was not being monitored by a security camera.
The report also pointed out that the DOCCS Office of Special Investigations, to which Johnson had been assigned, received training in evidence collection and handling in 2015. However, that training was offered only to new investigators and not those who joined the agency prior to 2015, the year two inmates, David Sweat and Richard Matt, both convicted murderers, escaped from Clinton Correctional.
A spokesman for DOCCS, Thomas Mailey, said his agency first uncovered Johnson's misdeeds, and promptly notified the inspector general
He said the Office of Special Investigations "has vastly improved its evidence processes over the past five years—and continued to do so over the six-month course of this investigation – and we will continue to do so in the future."
Mailey also said his agency's response "is an example of our longstanding and real commitment to integrity and the public trust."
.Johnson, who had supervised four investigators before his abrupt resignation, was released on his own recognizance after being arraigned Tuesday in Albany City Court.
Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach him at email@example.com