We’ve covered the prosecution and sentencing of Joe Frank Garza, the Texas prosecutor (79th district) who was ostracized for spending over $2 million dollars from his personal forfeiture slush fund. Now, an audit has revealed that the local sheriff’s office was also in on the racket to the tune of some $500,000, prompting an investigation from the Texas attorney general’s office. From the Corpus Christi Caller:
Balde Lozano, 59, was Brooks County sheriff from 1997 through 2009.
The sheriff had forfeiture funds that received proceeds seized during criminal investigations.
More than $500,000 in expenditures from the funds are questionable, an audit found. Records and interviews with county officials show Lozano did not complete required paperwork or get commissioners’ approval for expenses.
About $394,000 was spent to buy 18 vehicles, apparently without competitive purchasing procedures. The auditor had difficulty tracking what happened to the vehicles and whether the county received money when they were sold.
Lozano charged more than $88,000 to a credit card tied to the forfeiture funds. An audit found “a material amount” of the charges were unrelated to law enforcement.
Some of the questioned expenses involve transfers through former District Attorney Joe Frank Garza’s forfeiture funds. Garza pleaded guilty in March to a felony for misuse of his funds.
Lozano claims the audit was politically motivated and his funds “were complete and audited yearly with no findings of improprieties.”
County Judge Raul Ramirez, who was a commissioner during Lozano’s tenure, said the sheriff never sought commissioners’ approval for expenditures. The county has no record of any budgets submitted by Lozano. The audit reports that when a county auditor raised objections about the sheriff’s spending, Lozano and Garza replied with statements such as “the sheriff can do whatever he wants with his money.”
Incidentally, the money was part of a $1.5 million federal forfeiture that was “equitably shared” between seizing agencies. It is notable that the sheriff apparently did not comply with the mandatory federal accounting or reporting for his funds, and no one is really picking up on the fact that this also means that the Department of Justice cannot enforce compliance with federal law mandates regarding the use of federal equitably shared forfeiture funds.
The full audit by Roger Saenz is here. Some of the expenditures are notable for having absolutely nothing to do with the practice of law enforcement, particularly Lozano’s $59 purchase from Classmates.com on the official department AmEx.
Addendum: Texas Watchdog has more.