Finances of the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office were in such chaos in recent years that even its most basic bills went unpaid. It was slapped with eviction fees for paying rent late for its burglary task force. One of its bank accounts was dangerously close to being overdrawn. A $7,000 bill for accounting services was two years overdue.
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Claims v. Fact
Claim: Justice Department rules allow Fulton District Attorney Paul Howard to buy a security system for his home.
Fact: Agencies may purchase law enforcement equipment. However, regulations say nothing about home security for a personal residence.
Claim: Federal forfeiture funds may pay for the rental of a venue, food and a DJ for the DA’s annual holiday awards gala.
Fact: He may pay for plaques and certificates, but the Justice Department frowns upon spending on food and social events.
Claim: Howard may use federal forfeiture dollars to buy tickets to a charity gala that funds scholarships.
Fact: Federal rules do let agencies spend their forfeiture funds on scholarships, addiction treatment and other community programs, but they are supposed to purchase specific services, supplies or equipment. Spending on social events or things that give the appearance of extravagance are not allowed.
Highlights of federal forfeiture expenditures
2010 office holiday gala,$4,840
Tickets to Gate City Bar Association galas,$2,500
Burglary task force trip to Tucson, Ariz.,$894
DA Howard’s home security,$8,200
Dinner, bus transportation to Paschal’s Restaurant,$1,315
More on federal forfeiture
When local and state law enforcement or prosecutors help in a federal investigation, they can get a cut of the forfeiture proceeds through billion-dollar initiatives run by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Department of the Treasury. Backers of these national programs, which ballooned in recent decades, credit federal forfeiture with deterring organized crime and keeping money out of the hands of drug kingpins.
Critics such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the libertarian Institute for Justice say that forfeitures can infringe upon civil and property rights, and encourage law enforcement to “police for profit.” They say it can also hurt people who cannot afford to hire a lawyer to fight for the return of their property. Current law allows the government to seize property even if its owner is not charged with a crime, and it does not make provisions for all indigent property owners to receive legal representation.