Asset Forfeiture: Austin Police Use of Seized Funds Probed

Austin, Texas, Police Chief Art Acevedo announced August 9 that a criminal inquiry is underway into how Austin police spent money seized in the past five years and whether they violated rules governing how such funds are to be used. Acevedo, who has been on the job less than a month, said he wants to look closely at several payments made from the millions of dollars seized by the department during that period.

The probe comes after the Austin American-Statesman reviewed thousands of transactions obtained under Texas open public records laws. The review found that much of the money was spent on vehicle maintenance, training, and equipment purchases, but not all of it. Other spending included:

  • $13,000 in college tuition for a police commander.
  • $12,025 in October 2002 for an awards banquet.
  • $3,314 for clothing for the department's running team in November 2005.
  • $1,895 in May 2005 for a "race clock."
  • $625 in October 2001 for coffee mugs.

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Austin police -- busted?
A memo prepared for Chief Acevedo found more problems. It said the department had used seized funds in 2005 and 2006 to balance its budget. In fact, the department's seized funds account began running a negative balance in June because the money had been spent to balance the 2006 budget.

Both the state of Texas and the federal Justice Department have rules regarding how seized funds may be spent. The feds, for instance, bar funds from being used to pay salaries or supplant existing funding or from spending such funds before they are actually received. Texas law says that money can be used for salaries, overtime, officer training and investigative equipment and supplies. Other items may be bought with state funds only if used by officers in "direct law enforcement duties."

Acevedo said he had hoped to reveal the results of an internal investigation last week, but that was derailed when it morphed into a criminal investigation.

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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