Bal Harbour Police Chief Thomas Hunker has been suspended with pay following the release of a U.S. Justice Department report that slams the small police agency for allegedly misspending millions in drug money seized from criminals. The report also fingers Hunker for professional misconduct.
Hunker, 61, was sidelined with pay while an outside law enforcement agency investigates the allegations, according to a written statement issued by Jay Smith, the village’s human resources director.
“Chief Hunker requested that an investigation be conducted, and requested to be placed on leave to ensure the integrity of the investigation,’’ the statement said.
Treppeda and Bal Harbour Mayor Jean Rosenfield did not return repeated calls for comment.
The Justice Department also is looking into Bal Harbour’s handling of millions earned from laundering the money of drug dealers as part of ongoing, undercover investigations of criminal networks around the country.
Hunker, who has been chief since 2003, is about to complete the third year of a four-year employment contract that pays him a base salary of $141,959.80 a year, and provides him with a car, health insurance and a pension plan. In Hunker’s absence, Capt. Michael Daddario has been named acting chief.
In October, The Miami Herald reported that the village police department — a small-town force previously known for writing traffic tickets — conducts undercover operations all over the country targeting drug dealers. Records show the agency doled out $624,558 in payments to informants in less than four years, and ran up $23,704 in one month for cross-country trips with first-class flights and luxury car rentals.
In a rare move, federal agents froze millions that Bal Harbour helped confiscate under the program, and the Justice Department now wants the village to return more than $4 million.
The latest allegations against Hunker are outlined in an investigative report by the Justice Department Office of Inspector General. Among the specifics:
• Hunker conducted unauthorized checks of national criminal records databases for individuals who did not have access to those systems;
• Hunker provided individuals with honorary BHPD badges and identification and has influenced potential arrests and prosecutions;
• Hunker received multiple gifts from people who may have benefitted from the chief’s influence;
• Hunker ordered a police officer out of a marked vehicle and allowed an intoxicated individual to drive the vehicle on the beach;
• Hunker’s wife received a “deal’’ on her personal Jeep after BHPD purchased several police vehicles from the dealership;
• Hunker hired the son of a personal friend who was dismissed from the Miami-Dade Police Academy for cheating;
• BHPD-documented overtime related to money laundering investigations was inflated and abused. Specifically, that [a BHPD sergeant] inflated his overtime so that his pension is currently approximately $130,000 per year;
• BHPD improperly paid its informants.
Hunker referred all questions to his criminal defense attorney, Richard Sharpstein, who said the report reads like an irresponsible work of fiction, and that all the charges against the chief will be disproven.
“It’s shocking and extremely disappointing to think that the Justice Department would release these allegations, which are nothing more than the misdirected and misguided ranting of some obviously disgruntled individuals,’’ Sharpstein said. “They’re going to have egg on their face.’’