A post earlier this week referenced civil asset forfeitures and a new Texas Watchdog story illustrates how criminal asset forfeiture funds can also potentially be misused:
Security on the Texas border has created yet another insidious problem: an acute shortage of public accountants to keep track of the largesse from all the illegal trafficking.
An audit of $562,000 of criminal asset forfeiture fund spending by former Brooks County Sheriff Balde Lozano has been turned over to the office of the Texas Attorney General, according to a story by the Corpus Christi Caller Times.
Lozano has not been charged with any crime.
The investigation comes eight months after a Nueces County district judge sentenced former Brooks County District Attorney Joe Frank Garza to jail and ordered more than $2 million in restitution for skimming at least $1.2 million from the same kind of fund for himself and three of his former staff members.
The same auditor in the Garza investigation said Lozano, sheriff from 1997 through 2009, spent $394,000 on 18 cars bought without county approval for reasons that appeared to have nothing to do with law enforcement. The sheriff returned $21,550 to Brooks County after five of the cars were sold, according to the audit.
Lozano, 59, now a police officer in Falfurrias, charged more than $88,000 in restaurant dinners, department and electronics stores, hotels and gas stations. The bills for Cavender’s Boot City were nearly $3,000, the audit says.
Another $80,000 went to a contractor for construction work on the sheriff’s office, more than $10,000 of which went through Garza’s office first. Garza had also paid the contractor through his own forfeiture fund for work on the county jail and courthouse.
Declining an interview with the Caller Times, Lozano issued a written statement. “I have been out of politics for the last three years. It seems like the present sheriff’s administration continues to try to drag me back into it. During my 12 years as Brooks County sheriff, all my funds, including seizure funds, were complete and audited yearly with no findings of improprieties or irregularities. All documents and moneys were accounted for and were left behind in proper form as requested by law.”
Local officials declined to discuss the investigation. Investigators for the Attorney General’s office do not comment on ongoing investigations.Attribution:
Texas Attorney General examines Brooks Co. forfeiture fund after audit finds hundreds of thousands of dollars for cars, dinners, wares from Cavender’s Boot City
January 23, 2012
Abusive probate actions certainly provide opportunity for courts to redistribute assets. These forfeiture actions – be it from a civil or criminal standpoint – further suggest a growing propensity for public officials to confiscate and redistribute property, sometimes for illicit purposes.
Is this not one more way in which government appears to be serving itself ahead of the people?