Audit of Missouri State Highway Patrol Forfeiture Account Shows Mismanagement and Negligence

A June 2013 audit by Missouri Auditor Tom Schweich's office indicates substantial problems with the management of the Missouri State Highway Patrol's forfeiture fund:

MSHP troops have not always remitted cash seized during the performance of enforcement duties to the Budget and Procurement Division (BPD) in a timely manner. In addition, the BPD does not monitor seizure notifications, does not contact courts and prosecutors to dispose of monies held on old seizure cases, and does not reconcile the Criminal Forfeiture account balance to the listing of the amounts held on each case.

During performance of enforcement duties, MSHP officers sometimes seize cash as evidence. Monies seized may be subject to state forfeiture proceedings. When monies are seized, the seizure is documented in investigation and property reports and the seized monies are remitted to the evidence custodian for safekeeping. The officers are required to notify the BPD of the seizure date, amount seized, and the case incident number. If monies are subject to state forfeiture, the officer is to initiate forfeiture paperwork which is forwarded to the appropriate prosecutor for further processing. When forfeiture proceedings have been commenced, the evidence custodian removes the monies from evidence storage, and forwards the monies to a supervising officer who obtains a cashier's check and remits it along with a copy of the forfeiture paperwork to the BPD. The BPD maintains these monies in the Criminal Forfeiture bank account until further instructions are received from the court regarding distribution of the seized monies.

MSHP troops do not always remit cash seizures to the BPD in a timely manner, and the BPD does not monitor seizures made by the troops. In November 2011, one troop remitted to the BPD cash totaling about $117,000 the troop had been holding on cases with seizure dates as old as February 2000. The funds were discovered during an inventory of the troop's property room following the retirement of the previous property room officer. This remittance comprised about one-sixth of the total remittances in state fiscal year 2012 through May 2012 (about $691,000). MSHP General Order 84-04-1236 requires members seizing cash for forfeiture to notify the BPD of the seizure within a reasonable time. BPD staff do not monitor the notifications from the troops and BPD staff were unaware the troop had been holding seized cash on old cases. To ensure that all monies subject to state forfeiture are timely remitted to the BPD, the BPD should track notifications regarding seized property. The BPD has not contacted courts and prosecutors regarding disposing monies held on old seizure cases. As of May 31, 2012, the Criminal Forfeiture account contained about $958,000 related to 522 cases with seizure dates more than 5 years old. The BPD indicated the monies cannot be disbursed without an order from the applicable state or federal court;however, the BPD has not attempted to determine the status of court actions on old cases or seek court orders for disposition of the monies. Under MSHP General Order 84-04-1236, the commander of the officer making the seizure is responsible for tracking and monitoring the progress of state forfeiture proceeding initiated by members assigned to their component.

The BPD has not reconciled the Criminal Forfeiture account balance to the liabilities listing of amounts held on each case. As of May 2012, the liabilities listing totaled $1,699,984 and exceeded the account balance and undistributed interest by $5,756. Periodic reconciliation of the liabilities list and account balance is an essential tool in ensuring that records are in balance, sufficient assets exist to cover the liabilities, and all monies can be identified.

The status quo of basic mismanagement of seized and forfeited property by the Missouri State Highway Patrol is an open invitation to graft and outright theft by corrupt law enforcement agents. Indeed, the fact that MSHP in 2013 had almost a million dollars in seized or forfeited property deriving from cases that are over 5 years old indicates serious issues with the basic ability of this agency to manage seized funds.

Missouri legislators should consider two complementary options to reform the law as a result of this audit. First, the Missouri legislature should mandate strict transparency requirements of accounting and reporting of the source, process, and disposition of seized and forfeited property. Second, the Missouri legislature should consider changing the law to send proceeds of forfeiture to a Missouri general fund (under the Missouri Constitution, this money should properly go to a general education fund controlled by the legislature).

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  • commented 2014-03-04 07:46:38 -0600
    I wonder how much the cops put in there pocket…