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Sunday, April 20, 2008

Detective faces departmental charges in case of missing money

The Journal News by THERESA JUVA -- March 24, 2008

MAMARONECK - A veteran village detective is facing disciplinary charges, alleged to have taken $23,000 from a safe at police headquarters, according to documents obtained by The Journal News. In a notice of discipline served to Detective Joseph Comblo on Thursday, the Police Department charges him with 25 code-of-conduct violations. He is accused of removing about $23,400 from the safe sometime before Jan. 11, using it for personal spending and lying to investigators when questioned, according to the eight-page document signed by Chief Edward Flynn.

Flynn announced at a Board of Trustees meeting Feb. 25 that the department was investigating the theft of money from a safe on the second floor of headquarters, at 169 Mount Pleasant Ave. The longtime detective and youth officer is not facing criminal charges. Comblo joined the force in 1983 and has received recognition for perfect attendance and assisting in several high-profile arrests. Comblo was suspended without pay March 14, the same day he filed retirement papers, police said last week. No one answered the door at his Larchmont home Friday or Saturday.

He allegedly failed a polygraph test March 6 and failed to comply with an order to provide documentation of a medical condition, according to the charges. Andrew Quinn, an attorney for the village Police Benevolent Association, said he could not comment on the charges. When reached by phone Friday, Mamaroneck Mayor Kathy Savolt said she "can't comment on personnel matters at all." She declined to comment on whether criminal charges would be pursued, but did say there was "an open police investigation."

Comblo has until March 31 to respond to the charges and is entitled to a hearing in front of the Board of Trustees, which would sit as the Board of Police Commissioners. At the hearing, which could be open or closed, according to Comblo's wishes, he would be required to provide evidence against the disciplinary charges. Comblo could be dismissed or forced to forfeit his last month's pay if found guilty, according to the notice. He is scheduled to retire next month.

Randolph McLaughlin, a Pace University law professor, said criminal charges required a higher standard of evidence than department charges. A polygraph test could not be used as evidence in a criminal proceeding, so financial records, witness accounts and circumstantial evidence would be needed to build such a case, he said. "D.A. offices are historically reluctant to prosecute police officers unless they have a slam-dunk case," McLaughlin said, adding that district attorneys were hesitant to jeopardize relationships with police departments without full confidence in a case.

A spokesman for the Westchester County District Attorney's Office said the office was not actively involved in the investigation of the missing money. Emily DeSantis, spokeswoman for state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, said Comblo was not in danger of losing his pension. "His benefit is guaranteed by the state constitution," she said. Reach Theresa Juva at or 914-694-5012.

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