Friday, May 6, 2005

Asset Forfeiture: Albuquerque Police Broke Law with Seized Funds 5/6/05


A City of Albuquerque audit of the city police department's use of federal drug forfeiture money has found that the department violated state law and federal guidelines by using seized drug money to pay more than $32,000 in rent for a private armored car company. Under the state constitution, municipalities are barred from making donations to private corporations.

Albuquerque police helicopter

The action endangers the Albuquerque Police Department's access to federal drug money, the auditors warned in a report released April 28. "Ultimately they could lose (the funds), but that would not be the first step... they could get a warning," said Carmen L. Kavelman, city internal auditor. "If you misuse federal funds, you are always in danger of losing them. They are designated for specific purposes."

Last year, the department received $730,000 as its share of federal drug seizure funds under a law passed in 1984. The department typically uses the money for training, drug buy cash, cars, and computers. But when it used some of the money to pay rent for LL&D, Inc., an armored car company, the department not only violated state law but federal regulations, auditors said.

The unusual arrangement was just the department trying to make amends for some Keystone Cops behavior. LL&D was made homeless after police virtually destroyed its facility during a 19-hour SWAT team standoff with a burglary suspect in September. Police unleashed so much tear gas and explosives in their effort to snare the suspect that the business could no longer operate, so the police allowed LL&D to move into a building the department had leased using the federal forfeiture money.

This is just the latest blow to a department already reeling from an evidence room scandal in which drugs, weapons, and cash have been reported missing in dozens of cases. The state of the evidence room was so bad, local prosecutors said, they couldn't figure out whom to charge. That affair led to the resignation of the police chief last month.

New Police Chief Ray Schultz does not want to lose that federal drug money, a spokesman said. "Chief Schultz will be very diligent that all practices, policies and procedures follow the guidelines set forth by the federal, state and local government. He is going to be examining this audit in detail and he is going to ensure each and every concern has been addressed for complete compliance."

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