Indiana law enforcement spent over $400,000 in federal asset forfeiture funds to pay the salaries, overtime and fringe benefits for its officers, according to a federal audit released last week. Conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General, the audit examined more than $800,000 in expenditures made by the sheriff’s office for Henry County, Indiana in 2014 and 2015. That figure also included nearly $380,000 the Henry County Sheriff’s Office transferred to other law enforcement agencies.
The money in question derived from a federal forfeiture program known as “equitable sharing.” Through equitable sharing, participating local and state agencies can transfer seized property to federal authorities for forfeiture under federal law, and be rewarded with up to 80 percent of the proceeds. Equitable sharing has become increasingly controversial, in part because agencies do not need to secure a criminal conviction, or even file criminal charges, before forfeiture can occur. One in-depth investigation into equitable sharing by The Washington Post found that “in 81 percent of cases no one was indicted.”
In Henry County, the sheriff’s office spent nearly $180,000 in equitable sharing funds to pay the salary and fringe benefits of a deputy who was transferred to a drug interdiction task force. According to federal guidelines, agencies generally may not use equitable sharing to fund salaries and benefits for personnel, “so that the prospect of receiving equitable sharing funds does not influence, or appear to influence, law enforcement decisions.”
But one exception includes paying the salary of an officer hired to fill a vacancy when an officer is assigned to a task force. Since the assigned deputy’s salary and benefits were $40,875 higher than the replacement’s, only the difference in personnel costs was “unallowable” according to auditors.
Likewise, the Inspector General criticized improper spending on personnel by the Richmond Police Department and Hancock County Sheriff’s Office, which both received forfeiture funds from the Henry Country Sheriff’s Office. In Richmond, police spent over $121,000 to pay a deputy’s salaries and benefits. Although that deputy was assigned to a task force, the position was not backfilled and so ran afoul of federal guidelines. And in Hancock County, the sheriff’s office improperly spent $5,200 on a stipend that was above the salary of a replacement officer. The officer’s salary was paid for by more than $91,000 in equitable sharing money, though auditors considered that salary as “properly authorized and supported.”
In total, out of the roughly $400,000 paid in personnel expenditures, the Inspector General questioned more than $165,000 of that spending as “unallowable.” As of the audit’s publication, none of the money improperly spent on salaries, stipends or fringe benefits has been “appropriately remedied.”