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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  • icon
    Gary (profile), 30 Jul 2018 @ 10:52am

    Swap

    I guess he is now just going to impound the next sports car that catches his eye and keep that instead?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 30 Jul 2018 @ 10:58am

      Re: Swap

      I was thinking he would just stop enough citizens and confiscate (I mean charge) their money until his portion equaled the $70,000 he owes. Shouldn't take too long, and he might get lucky. The problem with this theory is that by then a new model year would be out and he will be wanting the newest one.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Michael, 30 Jul 2018 @ 10:56am

    Not to nit-pick, but where does anything say that the car was "tricked out" or one of a kind? I can go buy an all black Charger Hellcat at the dealership near my house (there is one there right now) for about that price.

    By looking at the pictures, it just looks like a regular Charger Hellcat.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 30 Jul 2018 @ 11:00am

      Re:

      Can you see the hidden lights and sirens and radios and computers and nox system?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Gary (profile), 30 Jul 2018 @ 11:00am

      Re: Tricked

      Silly me, I had just assumed that if you pay $70k for a car it is tricked out. Tinted windows and 700HP engines weren't standard on any car I've ever bought with my own money.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Michael, 30 Jul 2018 @ 11:23am

        Re: Re: Tricked

        A Tesla Model S is more expensive, faster, and runs on electricity.

        I am sorry to say, a $70k car is not that big of a deal anymore.

        I would, however, prefer our law enforcement did a better job of selecting appropriate vehicles for their job.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        JMT (profile), 30 Jul 2018 @ 2:01pm

        Re: Re: Tricked

        "Tinted windows and 700HP engines weren't standard on any car I've ever bought with my own money."

        But they are standard on a Charger Hellcat. Just coz you've never heard of it doesn't mean it isn't a thing.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          JoeCool (profile), 30 Jul 2018 @ 7:09pm

          Re: Re: Re: Tricked

          To the average person, tinted windows and huge engine is TRICKED OUT. Doesn't matter if it's standard for the model, it's still tricked out compared to what the average person buys. That is, after all, what determines what is or is not tricked out.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    David, 30 Jul 2018 @ 11:06am

    You know what happens now?

    Military gear retirement program. Bearcat instead of Hellcat. And the taxpayer has to bear the further increased gas tab. Only 440hp but certainly at least as good a demonstration object for the dangers of distracted driving.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Michael, 30 Jul 2018 @ 11:09am

      Re: You know what happens now?

      Just get two of them.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        David, 30 Jul 2018 @ 11:28am

        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.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Michael, 31 Jul 2018 @ 5:36am

          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.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Michael, 30 Jul 2018 @ 11:08am

    This is still quite the double-standard.

    I am pretty sure that if I embezzled money from my company and the DOJ found out, the letter I would be receiving would be an arrest warrant and a subpoena.

    Of course, my letter would be delivered by an armed courier.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Sharur, 30 Jul 2018 @ 11:48am

      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).

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 30 Jul 2018 @ 12:27pm

        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").

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 30 Jul 2018 @ 1:20pm

          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.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Sharur, 30 Jul 2018 @ 6:09pm

          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.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Jul 2018 @ 11:34am

    But it's just pennies from heaven. How can the DOJ demand money back on something ordained by God?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    OA (profile), 30 Jul 2018 @ 11:37am

    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.

    Physics documentaries.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Jul 2018 @ 11:37am

    " Dodge Charger Hellcat — a 707-horsepower muscle car that some have called the fastest sedan ever built"

    Oh, I doubt that.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 30 Jul 2018 @ 12:13pm

      Re:

      Talked to any Dodge salespeople about this?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 30 Jul 2018 @ 3:25pm

        Re: Re:

        Don't have to, I've watched the videos.
        Tesla will beat it easily.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Christenson, 30 Jul 2018 @ 5:28pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Yeah, but not if you ask the Dodge salespeople...Tesla, Carrera, F1, and that crazy Volkswagon on Pikes Peak recently (among lots of others!) be damned!

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Canuck, 30 Jul 2018 @ 5:28pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          A Tesla will quickly overheat.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 30 Jul 2018 @ 6:12pm

            Re: Re: Re: 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.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              mhajicek (profile), 30 Jul 2018 @ 7:52pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              That would be "quickest". "Fastest" is top speed.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • identicon
                Christenson, 30 Jul 2018 @ 8:30pm

                *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!

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                • identicon
                  Anonymous Coward, 30 Jul 2018 @ 11:57pm

                  Re: *Remember the Dodge Salesman!*

                  >There are very few places to use that 150+ mph top cruising speed!

                  Unless you are the Sheriff.

                  reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                • icon
                  The Wanderer (profile), 31 Jul 2018 @ 7:05am

                  Re: *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.

                  reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • identicon
                Anonymous Coward, 31 Jul 2018 @ 8:10am

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                Well, given that definition then - there are several sedans with higher top speeds.

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Berenerd (profile), 30 Jul 2018 @ 12:00pm

    And here I thought my police department was extravagant for buying Cadillacs for cruisers. I mean, after all, the city was defaulting and claiming bankruptcy, why not go all out?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      carlb, 30 Jul 2018 @ 9:49pm

      Re: Cadillacs?

      If this were New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, the city's "finest" would just break into the Cadillac dealership and help themselves.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 30 Jul 2018 @ 12:06pm

    Not gettin' any

    Well, there goes Sheriff Conway's pussy magnet.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Jul 2018 @ 12:13pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      tom (profile), 30 Jul 2018 @ 12:30pm

      Re:

      My thought was similar, just call it a "High Speed Interceptor" and all should be good. After all, you need something to chase down other cars full of cash.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        norahc (profile), 30 Jul 2018 @ 12:38pm

        Re: Re:

        "My thought was similar, just call it a "High Speed Interceptor" and all should be good. After all, you need something to chase down other cars full of cash."

        So the Fast and The Furious meets Mad Max?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      K`Tetch (profile), 30 Jul 2018 @ 1:32pm

      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)

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 30 Jul 2018 @ 1:14pm

    "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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    got_runs? (profile), 30 Jul 2018 @ 1:45pm

    COPS

    Cops make the best criminals.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 30 Jul 2018 @ 8:19pm

    '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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    tp, 31 Jul 2018 @ 2:43am

    Asset forfeiture for copyright infringement

    Shouldn't we just have asset forfeiture principles used for illegal piracy groups too, in order to cut their funding. The money could be used to support RIAA and MPAA..

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Wendy Cockcroft, 31 Jul 2018 @ 7:17am

      Re: Asset forfeiture for copyright infringement

      Would that include mothers and toddlers, old grannies, and dead people?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        tp, 31 Jul 2018 @ 7:48pm

        Re: Re: Asset forfeiture for copyright infringement

        > Would that include mothers and toddlers, old grannies, and dead people?

        if your granny is still enabling massive copyright infringement, obviusly this can aoply even after her death...

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 2 Aug 2018 @ 9:37pm

          Re: Re: Re: Asset forfeiture for copyright infringement

          And you'd be able to prove that, right?

          No? What a surprise, tp's assertions turned out to be nothing but unsubstantiated bullshit again. That's an M. Night Shyamalan twist right there...

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Toom1275 (profile), 31 Jul 2018 @ 7:40am

      Re: Asset forfeiture for copyright infringement

      Nah, copyright trolling already has "draining the innocent of their assets" already covered.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        tp, 31 Jul 2018 @ 7:57pm

        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...

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 2 Aug 2018 @ 9:38pm

          Re: Re: Re: Asset forfeiture for copyright infringement

          Not "efficiently" - "accurately".

          There is a pretty significant difference.

          Not that you'd care, asshole.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 31 Jul 2018 @ 8:11am

      Re: Asset forfeiture for copyright infringement

      "illegal piracy groups"

      LOL

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    haha hehe hoho, 31 Jul 2018 @ 1:59pm

    lets be fair to the pig

    lets be fair to the pig, he needs to get there in style and quick right...YOU OWE him that much...lol

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    jcfromnj (profile), 31 Jul 2018 @ 2:26pm

    forfeiture

    Stealing the loot from a gang banger is no big deal, they just go out and get more.
    When The Road Pirates snatch the loot of a hard working citizen, that's another matter...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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