“No one’s told me that we’re not in compliance,” said Hunker, who estimated the feds have frozen nearly $30 million.
Hunker insists the audit turned up only accounting errors and violations of “vague” guidelines that govern the use of forfeited dollars, and all expenses were approved by village attorneys and council.
But in fact the probe has shifted from a routine audit to a sweeping investigation, with the findings under scrutiny by the DOJ’s Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering office.
Matthew McCloskey, a special agent who led the probe for the DOJ’s Office of Inspector General, declined to comment on the probe.
For months, agents have been peeling back layers of the unit’s undercover details, including spending on hotels, car rentals and first-class flights.
In just one month, records show police plunked down $23,704 mostly on trips to Chicago, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Phoenix, and Tampa — including two first-class flights to California — and rentals of a Cadillac SRX and a Lincoln Town Car.
Hunker declined to talk about investigations, but said he encourages his officers hauling cash to go first class and drive luxury cars on undercover details.
“If you are showing up to pick up a half million and you’re using that as an undercover vehicle, are you going to show up in a Dodge Dart?” he asked.
However, the first-class flights and Cadillac rental were not part of an investigation, but a funeral for a fellow officer’s son and a meeting of law enforcement agents, records and interviews show.
Gun in the toilet
One of the trips caught the attention of California police who investigated a loaded handgun found in a public bathroom of a hotel in Riverside County — the gun later returned to a Bal Harbour cop who had left it in a handicap stall.
The trip took place just four days before the DOJ notified Bal Harbour of the audit.
Bal Harbour is among more than a dozen agencies that have come under scrutiny in the federal program created in 1985 to allow police to partner with the feds in criminal cases — even sharing in the bounties of seized assets.
Though the program gives wide latitude to cops, it also imposes rules on how those monies are seized as well as spent.
Most of the undercover investigations follow a familiar course: Cops or snitches turn up tips about dope traffickers across the country looking to launder money.
In many cases, they share the information with federal agents in places where the money is supposed to change hands.
In the past nine months, auditors have put the village through the most rigorous review it has ever faced, with demands for bank statements, payroll records, ledgers and receipts.
For the first time, agents have demanded explanations for the thousands of dollars doled out to snitches, as well as payroll records for two Bal Harbour cops stationed in Southern California and Charlotte County on Florida’s west coast.
Though the village tapped into forfeiture funds to pay the two salaries, federal law prohibits police from relying on those dollars to cover the payroll of cops who work seizures.
Hunker insists the two cops are “contract” workers who play the critical role of managing snitches.
Two people who spoke to The Miami Herald on the condition of anonymity said agents are looking into whether Bal Harbour cops abused their authority by fronting cash to snitches even before money was seized — breaking federal law.