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.

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Comments on “DOJ Tells Sheriff To Give It Back The $70,000 In Forfeiture Funds He Spent To Buy Himself A New Sports Car”

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59 Comments
David says:

Re: Re: You know what happens now?

Not really necessary. A 700+hp sports car cannot put out even 440hp on the road on a continuing basis: the clutch isn’t good for that even if you found a trailer that would demand that kind of power.

The clutch on a Bearcat, in contrast, will hold. You’ll find that running up a gas tab is a lot easier with that kind of vehicle.

Michael (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: You know what happens now?

“the clutch isn’t good for that even if you found a trailer that would demand that kind of power”

First, what? The clutch on a Challenger Hellcat is more than good for that amount of power. The Demon uses the same clutch and puts out more than 850 horsepower. I have watched a Challenger Hellcat on a dyno put out more than 500 hp to the rear wheels.

And….you cannot order a Charger Hellcat with a manual transmission. The Charger Hellcat only comes with an automatic.

Sharur says:

Re: Double-Standard

As horrific and asinine as this was, I wouldn’t call it embezzlement though (at least not of the DOJ; potentially of his actual employers, the people of Gwinnett County, but not the DOJ).

I would say its more akin to being given a company credit card, using it for personal charges, and the company demanding that you reimburse them for those personal charges. Something similar recently happened where I work (My team lead had been using his expense account to take my team out to a nice lunch once a month as a “team building exercise”, until that had been shut down; although the issue was less the nature of the expenses as it was about the department’s total budget).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Double-Standard

Do you know what would happen if I used my company credit card for 5 star dinners, penthouse suites, business class, and the like ? I would get fired so fast with a kick in my ass. We certainly don’t travel poorly when we are away, but such blatant misuse should be grounds to fire someone… yet here there seems to be nothing. I don’t know if things would have been different if it weren’t approved first (who the heck approves this anyway? Did they just train a monkey with a stamp?), but it is so right in the face that it really should have consequences (other than “meh.. pay us back and we’ll forget it”).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Double-Standard

Key words being, grounds for. It would definitely be something the company could fire you for. However if you paid it back the same company might only just put a record in your file. All depends on your current standing with the company, your relationship with superiors, no strict the company is, and how critical you are to the company.

Sharur says:

Re: Re: Re: Double-Standard

Different companies have different policies.

These weren’t “hidden” or unethical charges. They had been approved for years, until the department budget started hitting certain thresholds.

Now we have weekly meals, but they are catered for the whole department, rather than individual teams eating out on a monthly basis.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

The original claim was “the fastest sedan ever built”. This does not imply any duration.

The typical way that “fastest” is determined is via a 1/4 mile drag race, I do not recall reading about any over heating on the 1/4 mile. I would think the Tesla will run out of juice before it over heats.

Christenson says:

Re: Re: Re:4 *Remember the Dodge Salesman!*

The man said it was the fastest…
stop splitting hairs….yes, of course you have to define how exactly you measure fastest or quickest…probably the most commonly used (and actually practical) advertising measure is the time from 0mph to 60mph. There are very few places to use that 150+ mph top cruising speed!

The Wanderer (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 *Remember the Dodge Salesman!*

0-to-60 is acceleration rate, which is “quickest”.

The term “fastest” is reserved either for top speed or (to factor in handling, et cetera) for sustained-over-distance speed, as measured by time to cover e.g. a known-length reference course. I’ve never been entirely clear which, or what term is used for whichever is left over.

Anonymous Coward says:

Simple solution, they’ll just recommission the car as a working police squad car, but let the sheriff take it home evenings and weekends. That’s what many companies do with their company cars, which serve double duty as the personal vehicles of upper management, yet still serve as a tax deduction as a business expense.

K`Tetch (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Doesn’t quite work that way.

Car manufacturers make certain vehicles available for police departments. of those, MOST of them will be offered in a choice of regular or ‘special service’ vehicles. Special service vehicles are the ones set up and built with pursuits in mind. They’ll have heavier duty frames/suspension, engines designed for heavy loads, mounting points for external hardware (like barge-bars)

All regular/SS vehicles offered to the police are also ‘fleeted’, and designed internally for police use, with extranious ‘comforts’ removed (no Sirius XM or DVD players) and other stuff moved around so that department-specific equipment (MDTs, lights, speedmonitoring equipment, cameras, ALPRs etc) can be easily fitted – in fact this ease of access for equipment fitting is one of the major evaluation criteria in the Michigan police vehicle evaluations (one of the two big ones police departments nationwide use to evaluate when purchasing). For instance, the ford interceptor utility has a column-mounted shifter, the regular version has its shifter in the center console – the difference is all about equipment fitting.

As a result, the vehicles often cost much less – a charger hemi PPV might sell for $22k as part of a deal ($27k for the most basic to you or me), the ford interceptor utilty (explorer) might be $25k (its regular version starts at $32k). Whats more, any warranty wouldn’t be voided by pursuits as this hellcat would be.

In the UK, they don’t have special models made by manufacturers (because cars aren’t as common, especially as it takes 3 separate licenses to be pursuit qualified – patrol, response, pursuit – on top of the regular driving license, while US cops get 2 days of training during their acadamy days and their ready to chase speeders). So vehicles are purchased as regular models, but then they’ll go to a specialist company to be modified. The Volvo V70R’s I spent time in when I was doing accident investigations were all breathed on by ProDrive (who are probably better known as the company behind Subaru’s WRC dominance in the 90s and 00s)

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

“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 federal government previously approved asset forfeiture, which created asset forfeiture funds, but are now questioning if the law is being used for its stated purpose as the flow of drugs has not slowed down but the number of regular citizens complaining about being robbed by officers under the color of law has jumped.

That One Guy (profile) says:

'Education', sure...

The sheriff dubiously claimed the high-powered sports car had "educational" value when applying for the funds.

Would that be ‘educational’ in the sense of ‘it will be educational to see how much I can get away with?’

Perhaps ‘educational’ in the sense of ‘Look at what sweet stuff you can get if you have a badge and a willingness to sling enough bullshit to fill a stockyard!’

His actions were ‘educational’ alright, just for all the wrong reasons and in all the wrong ways.

tp (profile) says:

Re: Re: Asset forfeiture for copyright infringement

copyright trolling already has “draining the innocent of their assets” already covered.

There has been constant complaints that RIAA/MPAA are not doing their work efficiently enough. This asset forfeiture stuff can easily fix the RIAA efficiency problem. Maybe this would allow RIAA to compete against other players in the market… Especially against the people who do the most damage…

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