According to the report, Bal Harbour police — working in partnership with the Glades County Sheriff’s Office — laundered more than $56 million from 2008 to 2011; they seized approximately $49.7 million during the same period. And while the two agencies claimed 84 arrests, those arrests were actually done by other law enforcement entities, the report states.
Federal agents trying to snare drug dealers typically funnel huge amounts of drug money back to the South American cartels to develop more investigative leads. The problem with Bal Harbour police, according to the Justice Department report, is that the agency does not follow strict federal rules that ensure high-level arrests and cap the amount of undercover money that can be sent back to drug kingpins.
Bal Harbour police laundered money without adequate written policies, with no prosecutorial oversight, and with no audits of the undercover bank accounts, according to the Justice Department report.
Thomas Roell, a retired Miami-Dade assistant state attorney who served as acting director of the South Florida Money Laundering Strike Force — a federally-sponsored, multi-agency task force that Hunker once led — told a Justice Department investigator that the actions of the Bal Harbour-Glades County unit “have hindered the success’’ of the strike force, the report states.
For years, Bal Harbour’s department of 30 officers, serving a village of 2,574 people, has participated in a federal forfeiture program that allows cops to seize cash, boats, cars and other possessions from suspected drug dealers and money launderers — and keep a cut of the proceeds.
While small police departments rarely venture beyond their borders, Bal Harbour’s force has become a massive cash generator, infiltrating drug organizations across the country with no connection to the coastal village.
Armed with a team of snitches and undercover cops, the vice unit makes few arrests, but seizes a fortune in cash every year. In 2011, Bal Harbour led all police agencies in Florida in the amount of money received through federal forfeitures: $5.1 million.
For the past year, though, the village has been forced to turn over reams of records for a grueling audit that resulted from Bal Harbour’s refusal to cooperate with a routine compliance review, according to the Justice Department’s report.
The findings are now under review by Justice Department prosecutors.
As a result of the investigative findings, the village is now being forced to return $3.1 million — the village’s cut of the seized drug money in fiscal 2011 — $407,969 in additional proceeds and another $709,836 in money that was not supposed to be spent on salaries and benefits.
Treppeda has said that the village has only about $2 million left in seized cash.
Brian Mulheren, president of the Bal Harbour Citizens Coalition, a volunteer group of residents, said the allegations against Hunker are troubling, but that village leaders also should be held accountable for the police department’s failings.
“You don’t scapegoat just the chief,’’ Mulheren said of Hunker’s suspension. “The village manager, the finance director, the village attorney and the village elected officials all knew about this.’’