Sweetwater city leaders took up their troubled police department, discussing the inappropriate reporting of federal money based on an audit by the Department of Justice.
Monday night’s discussion by the Sweetwater City Commission was spurred by a last-minute addition to the agenda by Mayor Jose M. Diaz that summarized the findings from the DOJ, Office of the Inspector General.
The audit covered fiscal years 2010 to 2012, during which the Sweetwater Police Department misreported and misspent about $14,000 from the Federal Equitable Sharing Forfeiture Account.
Sweetwater Capt. Jorge Fernandez de Lara told the commission that those in charge of the police department at that time were at fault for misreporting items, and that the finance department was at fault for allowing DOJ funds to co-mingle in the same account as Treasury funds, state and local funds, as well as any other task force fund.
“We can’t put everything on miscellaneous. It’s a big violation,” De Lara said. “And we can’t have the co-mingling of monies. At the time, the finance department did a poor job of handling it.”
The audit also showed that the city was holding money in an interest-bearing account, which is a violation of federal protocol.
As a result, the police department was suspended from the federal sharing program and held responsible for reimbursing the money owed to the Federal Equitable Sharing Forfeiture Account.
During the investigation, auditors found that most of the forms were filled out by employees no longer working in the city: Detective Octavio Oliu, Cmdr. Mario Miranda and Chief Roberto Fulgueira, as well as Finance Director Anny Chez.
Miranda was one of several officers fired in October 2013 after Diaz began to restructure the police department. Fulgueira retired at the same time.
Chez, along with other city personnel, was let go in May 2014 as part of the mayor’s “Clean House” project.
Oliu, who is being investigated by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the FBI over corruption allegations, has been on paid leave since September 2013.
Since then, the Sweetwater Police Department has complied with audit recommendations by reimbursing the money, separating all forfeiture accounts and attending federally sponsored equitable sharing training.
The program suspension has been lifted, but investigations continue as the issue was referred to the DOJ’s criminal division.