As for the $4.2 million demanded by the Justice Department, Village Manager Alfred Treppeda said Bal Harbour has about $2 million remaining in unspent federal forfeiture funds. He said he has not yet determined where the additional money will come from to repay the government.
Village council members indicated they are willing to fight the sanctions, and voted unanimously to hire the law firm of Gelber, Schachter & Greenberg to challenge the Justice Department’s findings.
Treppeda said the village was awaiting receipt of about $9 million in forfeiture funds when the sanctions were announced this week. He said the independent attorneys will be tasked with helping the village get those funds from the government.
Bal Harbour has ceased all police activities funded through the federal program — including overtime for cops, and covert operations in such far-flung locations as California, New York and Illinois, Treppeda said.
The village also has canceled employment contracts for two police officers stationed in Southern California and on Florida’s west coast, and whose salaries were paid with forfeiture funds in violation of federal guidelines. The two police officers played the key role of managing the department’s network of informants who tip off the cops to the cash.
Residents and others who spoke at Thursday’s meeting appeared evenly divided in their praise and criticism of Hunker and the village’s forfeiture unit.
Brian Mulheren, president of the Bal Harbour Citizens Coalition, questioned why village police were working cases in California and New York.
“The police department is chartered to protect the residents of Bal Harbour,’’ he said. “Our police department needs to operate for the residents.’’
Several residents made it clear they have no appetite for higher property taxes, or for spending more money to retain an independent attorney to fight the feds.
“It would be imprudent for the village to throw good money after bad,’’ said resident Dina Cellini, who also called on the council to fire the chief.
“I urge you to send Chief Hunker on his way,’’ she said.
Others chided the council for attempting to diminish the results of the federal investigation by calling them “allegations’’ and comparing the probe to an Internal Revenue Service audit.
“These are findings,’’ said resident Larry Jaffe. “We all agree we don’t like crime, and we don’t like drugs. But the ends don’t justify the means.’’
Hunker also had supporters at the meeting, which was well attended by police officers and residents alike. Whenever a council member expressed support for the chief, rounds of applause would erupt among his supporters in the chambers.
Kenneth Each, who retired as North Miami police chief in 1997, defended Hunker, his longtime friend, and dismissed The Herald’s reporting of the federal investigation as “a lot of nonsense.’’
“He’s doing the right thing,’’ Each said. “You’re taking the profits away from the dope dealers.’’