Council Untroubled By Sheriff's Actions

Council Untroubled By Sheriff's Actions
Posted by FoM on February 02, 2000 at 21:17:38 PT
By Craig Whitlock, Washington Post Staff Writer
Source: Washington Post 
It's an emerging scandal without much outrage, at least not from the Prince George's County Council.News that the sheriff's office ignored county law and kept about $45,000 in cash from alleged drug dealers in a safe for seven years--even hiding the money from the council's Office of Audits and Investigations--has provoked scarcely a yawn from council members, who say they have no plans to review how the money was handled.
"I don't see anything malicious about it," said Isaac J. Gourdine (D-Fort Washington), echoing a widely held sentiment among his colleagues. "I think it was just a mistake, and I don't see that it's anything that would make or break the sheriff's office."The money wasn't discovered until November, when a whistleblower tipped off the council's auditors to its presence, several months after the cash was concealed by the sheriff's office when auditors conducted a review of the agency's books.The sheriff's department later opened an investigation, after The Washington Post disclosed on Jan. 24 that sheriff's officials had hidden the cash for seven years as the office lobbied for a new law that would have enabled it to keep the funds. Under current county law, drug forfeiture money seized by local law enforcement agencies is divvied up among the county police department, the state's attorney's office and the health department--but none goes to the sheriff.Since then, sheriff's officials have struggled to explain why they didn't deposit the money in the county treasury--as required by law--for so long and why it was kept out of the auditors' sight.So far, however, the County Council hasn't been pressing for answers. Many members said that they have confidence in Sheriff Alonzo D. Black (D) and that they were content to let him handle the case internally. Sheriff's officials have not given a timetable for their probe."It merits further investigation," said council Vice Chairman Peter A. Shapiro (D-Brentwood). "But I trust Sheriff Black will handle it appropriately. He's a man of integrity."Council member M.H. Jim Estepp (D-Croom) said that sheriff's officials "clearly violated the established procedures" by failing to turn over immediately confiscated cash to county finance officials. "Obviously, we need to get to the bottom of this."But Estepp demurred when asked whether the council itself should investigate, saying he would leave that up to Black. "I have had no reason not to have a high level of confidence in Sheriff Black," he said.Black's role is part of the controversy. His chief deputy, Lt. Col. John E. Moss, said last month that neither he nor the sheriff knew anything about the missing money.But Black's predecessor as sheriff, James V. Aluisi, and two former assistant sheriffs have said that Black had been aware of the money since it was seized in 1993 and that he was also in charge of seeking new legislation to enable the sheriff's office to keep the cash.Black, 53, has refused to comment and has declined repeated interview requests. His spokesman, Sgt. Bill Ament, did not return phone calls.During his campaign in 1998, Black pitched himself as a man voters could trust to fix problems in the sheriff's office, which was struggling to perform its most basic duties after a long political and legal fight over its budget with County Executive Wayne K. Curry (D)."My integrity is above reproach, my honesty unquestionable," Black's campaign literature said.In one of his first acts after taking office in December 1998, Black wrote to Estepp, who was then council chairman, and asked for a "comprehensive" audit of all property in the sheriff's department, including vehicles, weapons and forfeited cash seized during criminal investigations. The purpose, according to his staff, was to make sure everything was on the up and up as a new administration took power.In two internal memos, Black and Moss ordered all sheriff's employees to cooperate fully with the auditors. They also warned that any "missing property, monies or funds" would be investigated by the sheriff's department's internal affairs division.Despite such measures, the county auditors found no trace of the $45,000 when they combed the agency's books in February. Even after the auditors went over their findings with top sheriff's officials in March, no one mentioned the confiscated drug money.The money remained a secret until November, when a senior fiscal manager in the sheriff's office, Harold Irv Smith, informed auditors that they had missed it.The auditors conducted a follow-up review and found $44,653 in the sheriff's property room safe. But unlike the conclusions of their initial audit, which they made public in March and distributed to County Council members and dozens of other officials, the auditors told only a few people about the secret stash of cash and made no report to the public or the council.David Van Dyke, who then was acting county auditor, reported the missing money in a memo to Black that he copied to Council Administrator David L. Goode and Howard Stone, Curry's chief administrative officer. Council members, however, were not notified.Van Dyke said in a recent interview that he was not trying to suppress the findings. "We didn't see the purpose of issuing it in a report form," he said. Neither Goode nor council Chairman Dorothy F. Bailey (D-Temple Hills) returned phone calls.The money in question was seized on Feb. 18, 1993, when sheriff's deputies and FBI agents raided an Oxon Hill apartment in search of a murder suspect from the District. Officers found cash, seven handguns and 1,783 grams of marijuana. On the kitchen table was a grape juice bottle filled with 10 ounces of liquid PCP, according to court records.The murder suspect, 30-year-old Darnell Maddox, and the apartment's tenant, Sarah Nell Lee, were arrested and indicted on drug-trafficking charges.Those charges were later dismissed, however, when a Prince George's judge ruled that the deputies and FBI agents conducted an illegal search because they lacked a proper warrant. The murder charge against Maddox also was later dismissed. By Craig WhitlockWashington Post Staff WriterWednesday, February 2, 2000; Page M03  Copyright 2000 The Washington Post CompanyRelated Article:Maryland Sheriff's Office Hid Seized Cash - 1/23/2000
Home Comment Email Register Recent Comments Help

Post Comment

Name: Optional Password: 
Comment: [Please refrain from using profanity in your message]
Link URL: 
Link Title: