DOJ Tells Sheriff To Give It Back The $70,000 In Forfeiture Funds He Spent To Buy Himself A New Sports Car
from the I-guess-it's-good-to-know-there's-a-line-that-can-actually-be-crossed dept
You have to screw up pretty badly to step on the DOJ’s toes hard enough for it to notice when it comes to asset forfeiture. After the briefest of reforms under Eric Holder, new AG Jeff Sessions reactivated the federal forfeiture escape hatch, allowing law enforcement agencies to skirt local reform efforts by having their seizures “adopted” by the feds.
According to proponents of forfeiture, it’s a valuable tool that cripples drug cartels. That far more seizures take place than convictions or even arrests is glossed over by fans of forfeiture who honestly (or more likely, dishonestly) believe taking money from motorists during pretextual stops somehow has an effect on the international drug trade.
Gwinnett County (GA) Sheriff Butch Conway managed to cross that line, despite being invited to the White House to gush about the wonderful people at ICE. Conway blew nearly $70,000 in equitable sharing funds (the aforementioned partnership with the feds aided by federal forfeiture adoptions) on a tricked-out Dodge Hellcat. The DOJ recently sent a letter telling Butch it wants its money back.
The U.S. Department of Justice is demanding reimbursement for the nearly $70,000 that Gwinnett County Sheriff Butch Conway spent on the high-powered sports car he drives to and from work.
In a recent letter to Conway, the DOJ characterized the sheriff’s purchase of a Dodge Charger Hellcat — a 707-horsepower muscle car that some have called the fastest sedan ever built — as “extravagant.”
The federal government previously approved the purchase, which used asset forfeiture funds, but are now questioning if the Hellcat is being used for its stated purpose.
The sheriff dubiously claimed the high-powered sports car had “educational” value when applying for the funds. According to Sheriff Conway, the vehicle — with a 707-hp engine and dark black tinted windows — would be used at a local law enforcement event to [checks application] “inform teens about the dangers of distracted driving and street racing.”
The event specifically named in the funds request only happens once a year. So, rather than let the vehicle idle in a law enforcement garage, Conway decided it could also be his daily driver. However, the DOJ isn’t as concerned about this (mis)use of the $70,000 car. No, it’s more worried about the other things Conway said the vehicle could help with, despite being something the DOJ considers an “extravagance” unable to be purchased with federal funds.
Guidelines prohibit “the use of equitably shared funds for extravagant expenditures,” the DOJ’s letter, dated July 10, said. “The vehicle in question is a high-performance vehicle not typically purchased as part of a traditional fleet of law enforcement vehicles.”
The feds also took issue with part of the request that stated Conway would also use the car for undercover and covert operations.
It seems like undercover and covert operations might be better served by a vehicle that didn’t stick out like a customized one-of-a-kind sports car. The only way to grant the sheriff’s claims credence is to assume he believes the “Fast and Furious” movies are a series of documentaries.
The DOJ will likely get its money back. For one thing, it’s the DOJ. It’s not as if the sheriff can go over its head. For another, the DOJ has informed Butch he gets no more federal funds until this “extravagant purchase” is repaid. Someone who just spent $70,000 in federal funds to upgrade his personal vehicle probably isn’t ready to give up the nipple of what’s easy. Sheriff Butch is just going to have to swallow his pride (and sense of entitlement) and give back the money he stole from citizens with the DOJ’s assistance.