Extravagance with Forfeiture Funds in Camden County, Ga.

In March 2007, Camden County, Ga., deputies pulled over Michael Annan, a 43-year-old immigrant from Ghana, for speeding on I-95 on his way home from work.  After a search, officers found no evidence of illegal activity but confiscated $43,720 in cash.  Annan said the money was his life savings and that he was afraid to put it into a bank.

A canine search found no trace of drugs and a background check on Annan yielded no drug arrests.

Nevertheless, officers kept the money for further investigation and told Annan to call back in two weeks.  Annan says that he did call, multiple times, but made no progress securing his money.  A visit to the county seat in person was unsuccessful—the sheriff was too busy to see him.

Finally, Annan hired a lawyer, who faxed tax and work records to the sheriff’s office proving Annan earned his money legitimately.  The county did return the $43,720; however, Annan had to pay $12,000 to his attorney—more than a quarter of his life savings.[1]

Months after Annan was pulled over, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation began looking into expenditures by then-Camden County Sheriff Bill Smith, who had helped orchestrate the seizure of some $20 million over 15 years.

Smith used the forfeiture fund for extravagant purchases with questionable utility for law enforcement—such as a $90,000 sports car and a $79,000 boat.  He also used the fund to retain a private lawyer, to pay tuition for favored deputies at area colleges and to buy gas for employees’ personal vehicles, among other improprieties.[2]  Smith further paid jail inmates to work on his own property, his girlfriend’s and his ex-wife’s.[3]

Camden County voters unseated Smith, who had been sheriff for 23 years, in July 2008.[4]

[1] Burnett, J. (2008, June 16). Cash seizures by police prompt court fights. National Public Radio. Retrieved September 15, 2009, from http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=91555835.

[2] Burnett, J. (2008). Sheriff under scrutiny over drug money spending. National Public Radio. Retrieved September 16, 2009, from http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=91638378&ps=rs; Pinkham, P. (2008, July 6). Sheriff’s spending revealed; Smith used $615,000 in federal funds for tuition, a lease, private lawyer and more. Florida Times-Union, p. A1.

[3] Pinkham, P. (2007, October 14). Inmates reportedly did work out of state; Camden County Sheriff Bill Smith defends his handling of the trusty program, in which witnesses say he used inmate labor on private properties, even taking some to work on his former wife’s home in South Carolina. Florida Times-Union, p. A1; Pinkham, P. (2007, September 20). Smith insists he’s done no wrong; He responds to the lawsuit against him. Florida Times-Union, p. B1.

[4] Pinkham, P. (2008, July 20). Voters say it’s time for a change; Camden County seeks a fresh start after a scandalous year under Sheriff Bill Smith. Florida Times-Union, p. A1.

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