updated 5/12/2006 4:32:06 PM ET 2006-05-12T20:32:06

More than $31,000 in drug money seized by Somerville police now is buried forever under tons of garbage in a Rochester, N.H., landfill after officers accidentally stashed the cash in a broken desk drawer that was being discarded.

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The drug money went missing after an evidence room technician, who had been cleaning out evidence rooms at police headquarters since May 3, put the $31,535 in the drawer of the broken desk, said acting police Chief Robert Bradley. On Monday, while the technician was out of the office, two other officers involved in the evidence room cleanup threw out the desk, along with broken chairs and furniture for spring cleaning.

Bradley said the normal evidence room technician came back to work and immediately noticed that the desk was missing. Officials eventually found that the trash and the drawer unit had been hauled to the New Hampshire landfill.

On Wednesday, Somerville officers went to New Hampshire to try to dig up the cash. However they found it was buried under hundreds of tons of super-dense, hydraulically compacted waste, and there was no way to get to it, even with heavy equipment.

"A very bad mistake," Bradley said of losing the money, in a statement issued Thursday on behalf of he police and the city.

Bradley said that the department was conducting an internal probe to determine whether any disciplinary action was appropriate.

The $31,535, which covers about a dozen investigations conducted by Somerville police since July 1, 2005, was to have been split between the department and the Middlesex County district attorney's office if prosecutors won convictions in those cases.

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