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Petito case costly to North Port taxpayers, records show

(WWSB)
Published: Nov. 22, 2021 at 12:25 PM EST
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NORTH PORT, Fla. (North Port Sun) - The months-long search for Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie racked up thousands of hours in overtime and cost the City of North Port more than $100,000, records show.

According to coverage partners at the North Port Sun, city payroll records indicate North Port police investigators’ pay skyrocketed in September and October, mostly in helping resolve the Gabrielle “Gabby” Petito and Brian Laundrie missing persons cases.

America watched as local and federal investigators raced to resolve Petito’s homicide and Laundrie’s still unexplained death. The couple had lived in North Port until leaving in June from New York on a cross-country journey.

North Port became the lead investigative agency as Petito’s parents reported her missing Sept. 11 and the trail pointed to the home of her boyfriend Brian Laundrie, and his family on Wabasso Avenue in North Port. By mid-September, the city relinquished that authority to the FBI as the case took an interstate twist.

North Port had up to a dozen police investigators working both cases, mostly in digital forensics, the science of tracing phone and computer data, a spokesperson said.

North Port also worked with other police, that spokesperson said of interagency intelligence units. Police were also dispatched frequently to Wabasso Avenue to watch the Laundrie home, collect evidence there and control crowds of media and spectators that grew as the case attracted attention all over the world.

While North Port didn’t track its police costs case by case this September and October, the Laundrie-Petito investigation certainly accounted for the jump in year-to-year expenses, North Port Public Information Officer Josh Taylor said.

The cost issue surfaced with reports that North Port police payroll had exceeded $180,000 in overtime, September 2020 over September 2021. While Taylor disputed that number as inexact, as overtime is accounted for in bulk, he conceded September was expensive, especially in resolving Laundrie’s disappearance.

For example, untold dollars in time and equipment were spent searching parks and nearby wildlife reserves, he said. The FBI had announced Laundrie’s remains were discovered in the Carlton Reserve in mid-October.

“The good news is that we got answers,” Taylor said. Costs in the high-profile investigation, September over September, were more than 2,000 hours in overtime and $119,358 in payroll versus 105 hours and $3,800 in 2020, for example.

October to October had showed similar statistical increases, though that dropped quickly with the FBI taking control and with the discovery of Laundrie’s remains.

Laundrie and Petitio had traveled in a conversion van and logged their western-state adventures on social media. She was found dead at a remote Wyoming campsite in late September. The pair had lived in North Port with his parents. Laundrie was first listed as a person of interest in her disappearance and was later charged with misusing her bank card.

A Wyoming coroner determined Petito died by strangulation. An FBI-directed autopsy has yet to reveal Laundrie’s cause of death.

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