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1 Mar, 2017 03:45

Indiana police used $400k in asset forfeiture funds to boost their own pay & benefits, audit finds

Indiana police used $400k in asset forfeiture funds to boost their own pay & benefits, audit finds

A federal audit of Indiana law enforcement found nearly $400,000 in federal asset forfeiture funds went to pay the salaries, overtime, and benefits for its officers, which the law does not allow.

The audit of the Henry County Sheriff’s Office’s “equitable sharing program” released last week was conducted by the Department of Justice (DOJ) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) Audit Division. 

In total, auditors examined $802,206 in expenditures made by the sheriff’s office in 2014 and 2015, including $378,720 that was transferred to other law enforcement agencies as a part of the equitable sharing program, which allows police departments to prosecute asset forfeiture cases under federal instead of state law.

The nonprofit Institute for Justice estimates the program results in local police keeping around 80 percent of the property or assets seized from citizens.

Property that is seized by police, including real estate, motor vehicles, boats, aircraft, jewelry, art, antiques, and collectibles can then be sold back to the public during auctions

According to the DOJ, the asset forfeiture program has a “significant impact” on crime by removing the “tools of crime from criminal organizations.” 

However, a 2014 in-depth investigation by the Washington Post found that of the $2.5 billion in cash and property seized by police nationwide between 2008 and 2016, no one was indicted for a crime in 81 percent of those cases. 

The purpose of the federal audit of Indiana was to check if the sheriff’s office used the transferred funds for “unallowable” purposes.

Under federal rules, transferred funds from the equitable sharing program cannot be used to pay the salaries and benefits of any law enforcement personnel. The guidelines state that the rule was made to ensure that the funds do not “influence, or appear to influence, law enforcement decisions.

The transferred funds can be used in limited cases to pay for overtime, or an officer replacing current law enforcement personnel. The funds cannot be used to pay an officer’s full-time salary.

The auditors found $313,052 of the $378,720 transferred to other law enforcement agencies in the Pro-Active Criminal Enforcement (PACE) team was questionable.

The PACE team is comprised of four local law enforcement agencies in Indiana that patrol the highways. Their purpose is to “identify, locate and apprehend individuals engaged in the trafficking of illegal narcotics into and through the state of Indiana.

The team also claims that they have seized over $10 million in cash and illegal drugs, which they say “is reverted back to fund the salaries and equipment of the officers who are assigned to this detail.

The audit found issues with each department and issued recommendations for each division on how to become compliant with the law.

The auditors found that the Henry County Sheriff’s Office used $178,328 of the transferred funds to pay for the salary and fringe benefit costs of a deputy assigned to the PACE team, with at least $40,875 considered to be unallowable.

They found the Greenfield Police Department did not have a separate accounting code for the transferred funds, so auditors were unable to see if the funds were being properly used.

They also found the Hancock County Sheriff’s Office used $91,562 of the transferred funds to pay for personnel costs and equipment, with at least $5,200 considered to be unallowable.

And, the audit found the Richmond Police Department used $125,819 in transferred funds to pay for the salary of an officer assigned to the PACE team, including $4,387 in overtime costs, but the auditors could not verify if the officer was ever hired by the department. They are questioning the remaining $121,432 as unallowable because the department did not comply with the laws on using equitable sharing funds for salary costs.