This is not what forfeiture funds are meant for, right?
The US Department of Justice isn’t too happy with a specific Georgia sheriff at the moment. According to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Gwinnett County Sheriff Butch Conway bought a Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat with nearly $70,000 in asset forfeiture funds. The DOJ says the purchase was “extravagant.” Conway’s spokeswoman claims the “vehicle is an appropriate purchase, especially for an agency with a $92 million budget and the opportunity this vehicle provides in making our roadways safer.”
Sheriff Conway’s department bought the all black Charger Hellcat last April, a purchase that had been approved by the DOJ’s “equitable sharing program,” which distributes assets seized during enforcement efforts to state and local law enforcement agencies.
The aim is for them to buy things with the money that further support law enforcement activities. Makes sense, right? So how does a $70k Dodge Charger Hellcat contribute to law enforcement, other than impressive highway speeds? Sheriff Conway and crew defend the purchase because the car can be used in the local “Beat the Heat” program, a nonprofit that explains to drivers the dangers of distracted driving and, ironically in this case, street racing. Instead, this program stages street races in controlled environments. Sheriff Conway also uses the Charger as his daily driver to and from work as well as for “undercover and covert operations.”
The executive director of Georgia Ethics Watchdogs, William Perry, described the sheriff’s office’s explanations of the car’s purpose “bullfeathers” and that seized money assets ought to be “treated the same way as a dollar coming out of a taxpayer’s pocket." The DOJ also isn’t buying the sheriff’s explanation. It has issued a July 31 deadline for the sheriff’s department to reimburse them for the purchase. Until then the sheriff’s office is not eligible to request or receive more asset forfeiture funds.
“The vehicle in question is a high-performance vehicle not typically purchased as part of a traditional fleet of law enforcement vehicles,” stated the DOJ’s letter to the sheriff’s office demanding reimbursement. Gwinnett County officials claim they want to “resolve the matter quickly and will be adding review points in our process for equipment purchased with asset forfeiture funds to make sure we comply with guidelines set forth by the Department of Justice.”