South Miamis mayor is accusing the police chief of using money meant for crime-prevention to pay for an awards dinner. But the chief says he followed the law just as he has been doing during his long career in law enforcement.
Every month, around 100 guests, sometimes more mostly police brass from different departments in Miami-Dade County meet to recognize an officer of the month. The departments take turns covering the costs. Some dinners have been known to cost about $4,000, and some have been held at places like the Rusty Pelican in Virginia Key.
Mayor Philip Stoddard said that he had no issue with the dinner itself or the $1,587 cost. What bothered him was the chiefs use of the state forfeiture fund money collected from the seizure of property linked to illegal activity.
But Police Chief Orlando Martinez de Castro said he did everything by the book.
Page 21 of the federal forfeiture Guide to Equitable Sharing for State and Local Law Enforcement Agencies states that shared funds may be used under the conference package policy, the chief said. The rule applies to food or beverage served at a banquet or dinner to recognize law enforcement achievements.
But Stoddard said federal and state forfeiture funds have different guidelines and safeguards. For example, police can use federal forfeiture money but not state forfeiture money to buy equipment. Also, the state money cant be used for routine expenses.
The chief is using the federal forfeiture guidelines for the state forfeiture fund, Stoddard said. The state rules are a lot stricter.
Stoddard considers the dinner a normal operating expense. The mayor also reiterated past complaints about the chiefs handling of forfeiture money, saying for example that the chief failed to submit some of the expenditures to the City Commission for approval.
Martinez de Castro said Stoddard doesnt understand the procedure. Records show police used $1,587 to help the Village of Pinecrest cover the cost of hosting the monthly Miami-Dade County Association of Police Chiefs dinner on Sept. 16, 2011. Stoddard wants the State Attorneys Office to investigate the chief for authorizing the expense and for similar alleged violations.
Martinez de Castro said he used the forfeiture money in 2011 because his predecessor prepared the police departments budgets for that year, and no general revenue was set aside for the dinner.
The money for the dinner wasnt allocated, so that is why we used state forfeiture funds, he said.
Other expenses Stoddard is questioning include about $70 in dog food and vitamins for a police dog, about $940 in office supplies and furniture, and about $480 in GPS maintenance.
The Americans for Forfeiture Reforms Florida spokesman Brad R. Schlesinger said the organization, which advocates forfeiture law reform, believes that if authorities find Stoddards allegations to be true, they represent serious abuses.
If allowed to use forfeiture funds without any restrictions, law enforcement officials will be more prone to violate individual Constitutional rights by stopping, searching, and seizing more property than they normally would, just to fill departmental coffers, Schlesinger said. By restricting the use of forfeiture funds, the Florida Legislature is trying to limit the profit motive behind the use of asset forfeiture laws in general.