DOJ Inspector General Comments on Asset Forfeiture Fund

On December 11, 2013, the DOJ's Inspector General Michael Horowitz sent Attorney General Eric Holder a memorandum titled "Top Management and Performance Challenges Facing the Department of Justice - 2013". One of the memo items discusses "Protecting Taxpayer Funds from Mismanagement and Abuse", a section of which discusses the DOJ's asset forfeiture fund:

...Of similar significance to the taxpayer, the balance of the Department’s Assets Forfeiture Fund, which is funded by law enforcement asset forfeitures, rose from $2.9 billion in FY 2011 to $4.4 billion as of FY 2012.  A portion of these funds is available to be shared with state and local law enforcement agencies for permissible law enforcement uses, and from FY 2011 to FY 2012, these “equitable sharing” payments increased from $440 million to $681 million.  While this program represents an important opportunity for the Department to collaborate with state and local partners, it also creates an opportunity for abuse, as demonstrated by a recent OIG investigation of a local law enforcement entity that resulted in the recovery of $1.8 million in misused equitable sharing revenues.  As a result of this investigation, the Department is revising its policies to prevent similar abuses in the future.

While the OIG memo does not identify the "local law enforcement entity", a search of the OIG's Equitable Sharing Reports indicates that the offender is most likely the Oklahoma State Highway Patrol

In addition, we identified $1,697,433 in unallowable questioned costs and $210,216 in unsupported questioned costs related to expenditures and the use of seized tangible property including: (1) construction and renovation costs; (2) salaries, benefits and overtime paid to OHP non-law enforcement personnel; (3) fees paid to contractors; (4) fuel and other vehicle expenditures; (5) pickup trucks used by Oklahoma Department of Public Safety non-law enforcement personnel; and (6) use of a seized semi-tractor and trailer for non-law enforcement purposes.

It is also worth noting that the OIG only audited 3 Equitable Sharing recipients in 2013, despite the size of the program. The OIG's report also does not mention the public scandals surrounding the Florida law enforcement agencies of Bal Harbour and Sunrise, involving the misuse of tens of millions of dollars in Equitable Sharing funds.

It is significant that the DOJ's Equitable Sharing program now shares over half a billion dollars with state and local law enforcement. Law enforcement participation in federal Equitable Sharing is largely unregulated by state laws and represent an easy revenue opportunity for state and local law enforcement, who can send seized property through federal forfeiture, often circumventing more restrictive state property seizure and forfeiture disposition statutes. It is imperative that Congress act to restrict or end the Equitable Sharing program or that the states begin regulating the participation of their law enforcement agencies in order to end undue federal infringement on state sovereignty.

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