Fayette law enforcement agencies reap $13 million drug money harvest
In February of this year, the Fayette County Sheriff’s Department bought a helicopter to replace its aging Bell OH-58 Kiowa, call sign Hawk One. The price tag was $1.7 million.
So how does a department with a yearly budget of $15.87 million funded mostly with local taxes come up with the cash for one purchase that is the equivalent of 11 percent of its yearly budget?
The answer is — drug money. The official term is “asset forfeitures.” What was a lucrative but illegal business for drug dealers gets turned into a lucrative and legal source of extra revenue for cash-strapped law enforcement agencies that participate with federal agents to bust sellers of contraband drugs.
In the past 11 years, more than $12 million in seized funds has been dispersed to the Fayette County Sheriff’s Department, according to Sheriff Wayne Hannah.
Hannah said that through participation in the Fayette County Sheriff’s Office Tactical Narcotics Team, more than $1.2 million has also been distributed to the Tyrone Police Department, Fayetteville Police Department, the Peachtree City Police Department and other local agencies cumulatively for law enforcement enhancement within their respective communities.
All that money results through the TNT’s participation in the David G. Wilhelm Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force and the Atlanta Field Office of the Department of Homeland Security, Immigration Customs and Enforcement Task Force and other federal agency investigations since July 1, 2000, Hannah said.
Hannah said that, in terms of the routing methodology, purchases using seized funds are made by the sheriff’s office and not by Fayette County. That said, Hannah explained that his office is accountable to the county and provides the same itemized listing of revenues and expenditures that were included in the open records requests obtained by The Citizen. Similarly, said Hannah, the county attorney also signs off on requests for federal seizure funds once DEA informs the Fayette County Sheriff’s Office that those funds will be forthcoming.
“(Fayette County) knows what money we’re getting and how we spent it,” Hannah said.
As for surplused items, such as the old Hawk 1, Hannah said the proceeds from those items are returned to the appropriate drug seizure fund as revenue.
The Citizen makes Open records request
The Citizen last month asked the Fayette County Sheriff’s Office to provide its itemized federal and state drug forfeiture account information for the past two fiscal years.
The Fayette County Sheriff’s federal Equitable Sharing Fund had a beginning balance of $805,879.27 for Fiscal Year 2008-2009. Income obtained during FY 2008-2009 fiscal year totaled $3,681,866.61, with $3.157 million of that amount coming directly as drug seizure transfers from DEA. Fayette County also received approximately $522,000 from other federal agencies or departments as reimbursements or returned funds. The federal drug fund during FY 2008-2009 had expenditures totaling $2,524,120.97 and an ending balance of $1,963,624.91.
Expenditures for FY 2008-2009 included $80,545 in weapons and protective gear, fees for seminars in Georgia, Alabama, Florida and South Carolina totaling $26,253, per diem expenses totaling $22,866, lodging at $23,291, instructor fees at $8,106, fuel at $4,077, certifications and dues at $661, car rental at $632, airfare at $2,043 and $126,300 for travel and training. It should be noted that of the $126,300 amount, $100,000 went to the Georgia Sheriff’s Association to provide assistance so that smaller counties that received no federal drug funds could send their staff to training.
Other expenditures for 2008-2009 included $395,013 for helicopter expenses, $8,239 for uniforms, $5,987 for tools, equipment, supplies and repairs, $5,774 for office equipment, $43,186 for K-9 expenses, $450,198 for electronic surveillance equipment, $372,500 for drug-buy money, $103,946 for computers and communications equipment, $41,544 for building improvements and $12,872 for miscellaneous services that largely included K-9 expenses.
Still other expenditures under the Equitable Sharing Fund during 2008-2009 included $389,050 to the Fayetteville Police Department as its share of the federal money, $389,468 to Tyrone Police and $10,519 to the Pike County Sheriff’s Office.
The sheriff’s office during FY 2008-2009 also recognized a small amount of forfeiture income from local sources, referred to as state drug seizures. That amount totaled $1,051 and came from funds related to local drug cases. The State Drug Fund’s beginning balance was approximately $115,500. A total of $40,953 in expenses saw the fund end the year with a balance of approximately $75,000.
Expenditures in the State Drug Seizure account included $3,304 for swearing-in ceremonies, $105 for technical services, $349 for vehicle repair, $531 for lodging and meals, $4,852 for tactical gear, $12,020 for uniforms, $684 for computer software and upgrades, $1,179 for firearms and protective devices and $6,505 for other supplies such as laptop computer stands, shelving, flags, inventory supplies and water.
The sheriff’s federal Equitable Sharing Fund for FY 2009-2010 had a beginning of $1,963,624.91. The account for the year had a total income of $435,244.05 and expenses of $1,570,280.31, ending the year with a balance of $828,588.65
Fund income for FY 2009-2010 included categories such as $301,632 from DEA forfeitures, $42,106 in returned and reimbursed funds from training conferences, $76,764 in U.S. Dept. of Justice (DOJ) reimbursements and approximately $4,500 from DOJ for payment of overtime expenses.
Expenses for FY 2009-2010 included those such as $96,399 for building improvements dealing largely with the aviation and K-9 units, $74,265 for electronic surveillance equipment, approximately $23,500 for K-9 expenses, $1,455 for office equipment services, $7,006 for tools, supplies and repairs, $29,306 for uniforms and accessories, $287,525 for helicopter and vehicle expenses including the purchase of two vehicles at approximately $21,000 each, $52,769 for lodging at training, $69,325 for per diem expenses, $90,492 for seminar registrations, $59,253 for weapons and protective gear and $11,724 for gasoline.
Buying 60 in-car video cameras
By far the largest expense was for $573,050 under the communications category for the $437,461 purchase of 60 video camera systems for sheriff’s vehicles.
Also expended for the fiscal year were approximately $67,000 to the Fayetteville Police Department, approximately $38,500 to the Peachtree City Police Department and approximately $57,500 to the Tyrone Police Department.
The sheriff’s office during 2009-2010 in its State Drug Fund had a beginning balance of approximately $75,000 and an income of $2,811.82 from money seized in four cases. Forfeitures from two other cases brought in $15,307.90, for a total income of $18,119.72.
Expenditures from the State Drug Fund included items such as $2,216 for computer equipment, $11,157 for uniforms and supplies, $2,332 for meals associated with training, $5,970 for technical services and $6,380 for awards and supplies.
The replacement for the Hawk 1 helicopter, a used chopper with a $1.7 million price tag, was purchased in February and is currently being outfitted for use. The accounting of those funds will be included in the next Equitable Sharing Fund tally.
The process by which federal funds are dispersed to participating local law enforcement agencies involves a Memorandum of Understanding with the municipalities of Fayetteville, Tyrone and Peachtree City. The formula stipulates that 35 percent of the seized funds goes to TNT while of the remaining 65 percent, 20 percent goes to each of the three participating agencies and 40 percent to the sheriff’s office. The sheriff’s office pays for the vehicles and equipment used by the agents from the participating agencies.
The Fayetteville Police Department through the federal Equitable Sharing Fund had an opening balance in 2008-2009 of $65,584.89 and received $413,020 in drug seizure funds during the year.
Expenditures for the year totaled $108,930. Of those expenses, $14,723 went for training and travel, $39,331 for communications and computers, $9,300 for body armor and protective gear and $45,577 for other law enforcement expenses that included uniforms, traffic management equipment, K-9 supplies and patrol equipment. Other expenditures included $19,922 for a patrol car, $9,481 for camera systems, $13,500 for training for the K-9 handler, $5,990 for lighting systems, $6,584 for uniforms, $14,650 for surveillance equipment, $5,845 for six honor guard uniforms, $555 for K-9 supplies and $1,132 for expenses relating to training with the FBI Academy.
Fayetteville for FY 2009-2010 had a beginning balance in its federal Equitable Sharing Fund of $370,055.27 and, during the year brought in approximately $39,000 in additional DEA drug seizure money. The department spent $147,047 during the year and ended the fiscal year with a balance of approximately $262,000.
Expenditures using the Equitable Sharing Fund included $68,008 for communications and computers, $72,304 for other expenses, $4,685 for weapons and protective gear and $1,750 for travel and training.
A breakdown of those expenditures included $49,857 for camera systems, approximately $65,000 for three vehicles, $4,150 for shotguns, $13,048 for wireless communications and $888 for installation, $4,215 for mobile signage, $690 for training and a number of other expenses of less then $400 for items such as K-9 dog food, tint meters, honor guard equipment and supplies, bicycle supplies, bike uniforms, rifle equipment and per diem lodging and fuel costs.
Fayetteville’s federal drug fund for FY 2011 began the year with a balance of approximately $262,000. The fund as of late April brought in approximately $26,500, with $13,074 coming from federal seizures and passing through the Fayette County Sheriff’s Office, $10,652 from Immigration & Customs Enforcement, $300 from the state drug fund. Expenditures to date include $21,835 for a vehicle, approximately $3,400 for laptop computers, $2,205 for K-9 surgery, $1,528 for rifle scopes and $750 for training.
Fayetteville’s FY 2008-2009 State Drug Fund balance was $6,527.95. During the period the fund received approximately $8,700 in deposits and expended approximately $12,800, ending the fiscal year with a balance of $2,444.25. There were two other ledger deposits from confiscated cash that were zeroed out when the funds were returned to the District Attorney’s office as a result of court proceedings.
Essentially for the year, the fund brought in $4,213 from confiscated cash, $1,385 from forfeitures routed through the District Attorney and $2,821 received from the auction of a confiscated Chevrolet Caprice.
As for expenditures, the Fayetteville Police State Drug Fund spent $12,800 on a variety of purposes. Among those were various expenses related to the department’s K-9 program totaling approximately $2,500, a child identification kit for $3,459, $1,580 for uniforms, approximately $1,400 for training courses and conference registration, approximately $1,300 for per diem charges and a number of other minor expenses.
The Fayetteville Police State Drug Fund for FY 2009-2010 began the year with a balance of $2,444.24 and ended with $5,989.74. Approximately $5,150 in deposits to the fund came from approximately $3,150 from the auction of two vehicles and approximately $2,000 from the Fayette County Board of Commissioners for investigation expenses. Approximately $1,700 was spent during the fiscal year on uniforms, rifle equipment, legal advertising and monthly bank service charges that averaged nearly $31.
And for current portion of FY 2010-2011, the nearly $6,000 beginning balance now sits at $1,159.23. Deposits of approximately $5,000 include $4,685.90 from Fayette County as its share of two cases conducted by the department. Payments from the account total approximately $9,700 and include a $4,925 payment for in-car camera systems and installation, a $1,660 payment for Chief’s Challenge Coins that serve as community awards to officers for meritorious conduct and a dozen lesser expenses for items such as a computer router and service agreement, expenses for the CALEA national law enforcement accrediting organization and staff training.
Peachtree City's share
The Peachtree City Police Department in its federal seizure fund for the 2008-2009 fiscal year saw revenues of $609.02. Peachtree City had very little federal drug seizure revenues since the department for years was not a part of the county drug task force that worked with TNT and DEA, and thus, was not a recipient of federal seizure funds. It should also be noted that once a part of TNT it still takes a significant amount of time to take possession of drug seizure funds since the cases involved in the seizures must work their way through the federal system before they can be disbursed to DEA-affiliated local agencies.
For FY 2009-2010 Peachtree City brought in $48,589 and, as of April 22, the department received another $2,090.89 in federal seizure money for the 2010-2011 fiscal year.
Expenditures during the time period totaled $15,480 and showed a balance of $35,914.9. Those expenditures included $2,550 for Innovative Data Systems software, $6,275 for a computerized key control system, $4,855 for a drug incinerator and $1,800 for Guardian Tracking software.
Peachtree City in its State Drug Fund began FY 2008-2009 with a balance of $13,735. The fund brought in $2,772 in FY 2008-2009, $3,407 in FY 2009-2010 and, to date, $1,579 for FY 2010-2011, for a three-year total of approximately $7,800.
Expenditures for 2008-2009 included tasers at $5,866, an honor guard flag at $361 and a flag point spear at $69 for a total of $6,297. The fund in 2009-2010 purchased K-9 training for $6,750 and, to date, has made no purchases in the current fiscal year.
Peachtree City’s State Drug Fund balance as of April 22 was $8,472.89
The Citizen requested records from the past two years from the Tyrone Police Department. The department has long been a TNT member and has benefited significantly from that participation when it comes to revenues from federal drug seizure funds.
Tyrone’s federal Equitable Sharing Fund for 2009-2010 had a beginning balance of $493,099 and ended with a balance of $364,752. The department for the year had deposits of $73,474 and expenditures of $183,552. All but $233.91 of the $73,474 revenues came as pass-through amounts from the Sheriff’s Office as part of DEA drug seizure funds. The $234 amount came as a refund from lodging at a law enforcement conference.
Expenditures for 2009-2010 included $76,572 for the renovation of the basement at the police department building, approximately $66,400 for the purchase of three vehicles, $15,348 for vehicles lights and cages, $14,151 for vehicle cameras, approximately $1,300 for telephones and data equipment, $4,474 for surveillance cameras, approximately $2,100 for weapons, approximately $2,200 for ammunition and $814 for lodging at a law enforcement conference.
Tyrone’s federal seizure fund through April 29 for the 2010-2011 fiscal year deposited $34,623.66, with all but $203.49 passing through the sheriff from DEA. The $203 deposit was a refund from a police chief’s association conference.
Expenditures thus far for FY 2010-2011 total $61,496. That amount included costs such as $23,445 for video cameras, $19,255 for a Stalker Smart Trailer, approximately $965 for a camera and memory card, approximately $1,400 for overtime for the TNT officer, $2,120 for vehicle equipment installation, $3,658 for weapons and holsters, $1,373 for flashlights for weapons, $661 for computer software, $2,343 for laser equipment and a number of small ticket items such as trailer hitches and a radio microphone.
Tyrone’s Equitable Sharing Fund as of April 29 had a balance of $338,476.85.
The department’s State Seizure Fund for the 2009-2010 fiscal year showed a beginning balance of $5,134.77. Two seizures during the period from local drug cases, that by procedure cleared the sheriff’s office and district attorney, totaled approximately $2,000 while expenditures totaled nearly $1,100. Those expenditures included $275 for training, $218 for a re-certification class and $602 for a power supply adapter unit. The fund ended the fiscal year with a balance of $6,035.
Tyrone’s 2010-2011 State Seizure Fund, effective through April 20, showed the beginning balance of $6,035, with $4,836 deposited into the account from three seizures, and expenditures of $2,424. The April 20 balance was $8,447.12 Expenditures for the period included $492 for ammunition, $1,340 for training, $419 for a Georgia Crime Information Center computer and $172 for firearms’ shipping.
How we got this story
A lawsuit was filed in March by the Libertarian Party of Atlanta after a number of law enforcement agencies in Georgia would not release state-required information of the revenues and expenditures relating to various forfeitures and an itemized accounting of how the money was spent. A request by The Citizen to the law enforcement agencies in Fayette County for the past two years of those records showed no hesitation to release the information. The information those agencies provided included itemized forfeiture income and expenditures from both federal and local sources. The vast majority of the forfeitures came from federal drug cases, totaling more than $4 million in the past two years.
The various local law enforcement agencies receive forfeitures from both federal drug seizures, referenced in federal paperwork as the Equitable Sharing Fund, and local drug-related seizures, referred to as the State Drug Fund. By an overwhelming margin, the larger of the two are those funds that come from federal drug seizure activities by the Fayette County Sheriff’s Tactical Narcotics Team (TNT) while working with the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). The seized funds are released to the DEA after the cases make their way through the federal court system.
While TNT takes the lead and accounts for the largest local staff and support efforts, the remaining local law enforcement agencies such as Fayetteville Police and Tyrone Police both provide an agent in the effort and, consequently, receive a share of the federal money. More recently, the Peachtree City Police Department has provided an agent and has begun receiving its share of the federal drug seizure money.
By way of explanation of the use of federal drug funds, Fayette County Sheriff Wayne Hannah said under the guidelines of the Equitable Sharing Program, the funds received cannot be used to replace or supplant the sheriff’s office’s regularly budgeted monies. The funds must be used for the enhancement of law enforcement with an emphasis on training and narcotics detection, said Hannah.
Also under the guidelines, said Hannah, the sheriff’s office cannot use any forfeited property seized for non-law enforcement personnel or use funds to pay education-related costs for non-law enforcement classes. Any violation of the guidelines or compliance with the Department of Justice or the Department of Treasury would result in termination within the program.
Pertaining to the State Drug Fund maintained by the sheriff and local municipalities, Hannah said the TNT and the Criminal Investigations Division also conduct various investigations which are prosecuted on the local level through the Griffin Judicial Circuit and the Fayette County District Attorney’s Office. In the past ten years these investigations have resulted in over $365,000 in forfeiture proceeds which have been used for Fayette County law enforcement activities.
The local share of federal drug funds comes from the participation of the various Fayette County law enforcement agencies with federal agencies, especially the Drug Enforcement Administration. The federal Equitable Sharing Fund drug seizure funds are initially sent to the Fayette County Sheriff’s Office and then disbursed to the local police departments that participated with TNT when those seizures occurred. Many of the large sums obtained through federal drug seizure activity occurred in drug seizure operations with DEA outside Fayette County. Fayette County receives its share of the specific cases once they have been disposed of at the federal level. That process can take months or years.