Sarah Willets at the Robesonian reports:
The U.S. Department of Justice says a “strict” remediation plan is needed for the Robeson County Sheriff’s Department to again participate in the federal Asset Forfeiture Program after officer misconduct caused it to be expelled from the program 10 years ago.
“The nature, scope and duration of the Robeson County Sheriff’s Department misconduct was among the most egregious in the history of the Equitable Sharing Program,” said Peter Carr, a Justice Department spokesperson, in a statement emailed to The Robesonian. “While the officers who perpetrated this decade-long crime spree have been appropriately punished in the criminal justice system, the damage their actions did to the program is not easily undone.”
AFR Research Director Scott Meiner noted in a June 2012 roundup of law enforcement corruption and asset forfeiture abuses in North Carolina that:
"...Robeson ranked first in the state in cash received per capita as part of the DOJ’s Equitable Sharing Program. Problems ensued. Numerous deputies eventually pleaded guilty to stealing cash seized incident to traffic stops. More exotic convictions included ”conspiracy to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act(RICO), conspiracy to commit money laundering, conspiracy to defraud the government, conspiracy to commit satellite piracy, conspiracy to commit kidnaping, conspiracy to distribute cocaine and use of a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence” as part of the Department of Justice’s Operation Tarnished Badge investigation of the Robeson County Sheriff’s Department. The sheriff and 21 others (of approximately 120 employees) were convicted."
Robeson County District Attorney Johnson Britt criticized Sheriff Sealey prior to the November 2014 midterm elections, noting that:
"...attempts during the past 10 years to be reinstated have failed because Sealey has been “unwilling to comply with regulations of eligibility.”
Britt said that the Justice Department is still concerned that Sealey employs individuals implicated in Tarnished Badge but not charged; provides inadequate supervision of the Drug Enforcement Unit; and that training of department personnel is inefficient.
“I don’t think these issues have been worked out or they would be back in the program,” said Britt. “… From information shared with me, unless these concerns are addressed, the department will not be reinstated.”
According to Britt, the inability of the Sheriff’s Office to regain eligibility in the federal program has been a “management decision.”
“I believe that if a new sheriff is elected, and that individual demonstrates to the Justice Department he or she is willing to make necessary changes, then opportunity to participate in the program will be greatly enhanced and likely to occur.”
Ultimately, the challenges facing Robeson law enforcement extend beyond a future reinstatement to the federal Equitable Sharing program. Sending non-appropriated federal forfeiture revenues to local law enforcement undermines local control of law enforcement, and skews law enforcement priorities away in the direction of collecting revenue. Additionally, federal oversight of these programs is generally lacking, as the Office of the Inspector General only audits a handful of agencies annually for compliance with federal Equitable Sharing regulations. The North Carolina legislature should act to take control of this situation by demanding all federal forfeiture revenues go to the North Carolina general fund, for appropriation by the elected representatives of the people of North Carolina.