The mayor of Tampa, Florida drives an alleged pimp’s old SUV:
Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s city vehicle, a jet black GMC Yukon Denali with tinted windows, was seized from a man charged last month with sex trafficking, sexual battery and forcing someone to become a prostitute.
Charles “Boogy” Melvin Fox, accused of running a prostitution ring, has driven prostitutes in the SUV everywhere from Tampa to Orlando, Daytona, Chicago and Tulsa, Okla., and he placed proceeds his prostitutes gave him into a money clip in the SUV’s console, police reports state.
First, although Fox does not seem to be savory character, he hasn’t been convicted of anything yet, so it is improper for the government to take his property at least until they prove the case against him. Innocent until proven guilty applies just as much to alleged pimps as to Sunday school teachers.
Second, and perhaps more importantly in this case, forfeited property should not be used to enrich law enforcement agents or elected officials. If the city of Tampa wants to provide a vehicle for their mayor, they should appropriate a vehicle allowance in the budget. Allowing the mayor to go down to the forfeiture lot and take his pick creates all sorts of opportunities for corruption. And that’s not idle speculation; this kind of thing has happened before.
I live in Saint Louis, and several years ago we discovered that the police department had been towing vehicles, holding them through asset forfeiture, and then using the forfeiture pool like their own personal car lot. From a 2008 AP story on the scandal:
For years, police contracted with St. Louis Metropolitan Towing to tow and impound cars. The contract was ended in July after police revealed that the firm allowed many officers – and former Police Chief Joe Mokwa’s daughter – to borrow the seized vehicles, sometimes for weeks or months at a time. Mokwa retired amid concerns raised by the scandal.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Friday that the towing firm kept nearly $700,000 owed to the city, and that police failed to act on evidence in their own files. The newspaper said its investigation found that police leaders ignored auditors’ advice to keep a close watch on the deal with St. Louis Metropolitan Towing.
Police said in a news release that contracts called for the towing company to pay some fees to the department and other fees to the city. Some payments were received, but the department said a recent comparison of towing records to towing payments “revealed the possibility that additional monies could be due.”
That’s one way of putting it. Another is that the city’s police department systematically defrauded its residents to the tune of several million dollars. Tampa might want to read up on the case and reconsider whether it wants to give powerful public officials the ability to profit from their forfeiture program.
Tampa story via Radley Balko.