Hacking case's costs overwhelm agencies

"Budget-buster": Months of searching ballooned the expenses
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2004, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The investigation into Lori Hacking's murder not only dominated the headlines, it also overwhelmed the budgets for some Utah agencies.

While the final amount is not yet available, a Salt Lake Tribune review shows at least $312,720 has been spent on the high-profile case.

That figure is expected to skyrocket once Salt Lake City police tabulate the combined salaries of officers who searched for Hacking when police initially thought she was a missing jogger. Officer salary costs have not yet been made public, including the amount paid to homicide detectives who built the pending murder case against her husband, Mark.

Few other homicides have been as costly to investigate as the Hacking case, which involved dedicated searches of City Creek Canyon and the Salt Lake County landfill, where Hacking's body was recovered.

Salt Lake City police say they will either juggle internal monies to cover the unexpected expense or go before the City Council and ask for help. A final decision won't be made until closer to the end of the fiscal year in June, said head accountant Jerry Burton.

Other agencies say they, too, have felt the financial strains of the case.

Maj. Stu Smith of the state crime lab called the Hacking investigation "a budget-buster" in which the lab spent about $28,000 for DNA tests and the time forensic scientists spent at crime scenes. Usually, the lab spends a total of $30,000 on such activities for a whole year.

Smith said the lab will attempt to stretch the budget in areas such as office equipment and supplies "to scrape by."

Mark Hacking reported his wife missing on July 19, but prosecutors say he later confessed to his brothers he shot his sleeping wife in the head and then put her body in a Dumpster. A tedious 15-day hand search of the landfill ended on Oct. 1, when Lori Hacking's remains were found in a garbage bag.

Prosecutors say Lori Hacking caught her husband in a lie just before the murder. Mark Hacking had lied about his college education and a planned move to North Carolina where he would supposedly attend medical school, they say.

The group of officers and firefighters, from agencies throughout Salt Lake County, spent a combined 3,125 hours sifting through landfill trash with pitchfork-like rakes, costing their departments an estimated $106,250 in salary and benefits. It was the biggest single expense for Salt Lake City.

SLCPD forked out $49,980 alone for its officers who participated in the hand search. The department also paid the landfill more than $40,000 for its help with equipment and staff. Another $9,000 went to feed and house the Duchesne County search dogs and their handlers, who were called out 27 times, spending a combined 700 hours hunting for Hacking.

Landfill fiscal manager Stuart Palmer estimates his organization ate an additional $73,000.

"We only charged them a portion of all of the costs of what we did," said Palmer, saying the landfill did not pass along the complete costs of equipment, some of which it had to rent.

The officers who participated in this search say they were spurred on by the desire to provide Lori Hacking's family some closure - and they succeeded.

"Even though we were only able to bury 15 pounds of the 115 pounds that she weighed, every ounce was sacred to us," said Hacking's mother, Thelma Soares. "Words cannot adequately express how grateful we are that these people didn't give up. They are my heroes."

The other major tab for Salt Lake City was the $47,000 in overtime paid to officers during the 11-week investigation.

Cases such as the Hacking homicide and the Elizabeth Smart kidnapping "can certainly make a huge impact on a yearly budget," police spokesman Dwayne Baird said. But the Hacking tab seems small by comparison.

During Smart's kidnapping and subsequent recovery, SLCPD paid its officers $160,000 in overtime alone. What Capt. Roger Winkler calls a "once-in-a-career" investigation forced the department to change its accounting measures.

Police administrators now create "cash centers" for big cases, such as the Hacking murder, to cover associated costs and monitor what is being spent on related items ranging from drinks and bug spray for searchers to analyzing surveillance video. This cash center gives police the ability to show the chief, mayor and city council the exact cost of the investigation.

The financial burden of the Hacking case seems to be one that rests solely with law enforcement so far. The Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office has not spent extra money other than the on-duty time of its attorneys and investigators, according to lead prosecutor Bob Stott.