Cash in Sheriff's Safe Develops a Bad Smell

Cash in Sheriff's Safe Develops a Bad Smell
Posted by FoM on February 09, 2000 at 07:43:50 PT
By Lisa Frazier
Source: Washington Post
Something sure smells fishy. And the suspicious odor is coming directly from the Prince George's County sheriff's office.What we know for sure is that the department confiscated at least $44,653 seven years ago while searching for a suspected murderer and drug dealer in an Oxon Hill apartment. 
But instead of turning over the cash to the county treasury, as required by state law, former sheriff James V. Aluisi put the money in a department safe.County auditors discovered the stash in November, almost seven years after the February 1993 bust, when the department's senior fiscal manager tipped them off. Just months earlier, auditors had reviewed the department's books. Funny thing, no one bothered to mention the money then.Aluisi, who retired in December 1998, says he was hanging onto the cash while his agency pushed for a new law that would let the department keep a share of it. The former sheriff said he wanted the money so he could buy bulletproof vests for his officers.Aw, how sweet.But no matter how Aluisi tries to justify his intention, he plainly and simply broke the law. In Maryland, law enforcement agencies are required to turn over such contraband to the county treasury right away. Then, if the courts rule the public is entitled to the goodies under civil forfeiture laws, the pot is split mostly between the school system and police department.For some strange reason, the sheriff's department doesn't get a cut. Although Aluisi might have made a good case that the practice should be changed, he--a man charged with enforcing the law--was bound to follow it himself, even if he didn't much like it. No civil disobedience allowed among officers of the law.How much compassion would the average taxpayer get, for example, if Uncle Sam discovered seven years of unpaid taxes? Even the newly sympathetic Internal Revenue Service might have a hard time accepting as an excuse, "I wasn't attempting to defraud anyone. I was just waiting for my legislator to change the law so I could keep my hard-earned dollars and pay my kid's college tuition."But Aluisi is out of the picture. A new sheriff is in town. What's the big deal, you might ask? It is this: Did Alonzo D. Black, who replaced Aluisi in 1998, go along with his predecessor and also break the law?Aluisi and two of his right-hand men declare that Black was in on the scheme. They say Black, then the agency's in-house lawyer, was the one responsible for lobbying to change state law so the department could keep the money.Perhaps Aluisi is feeling the heat for his decision and simply wants to drag an honorable man with him over the coals. I don't know.Black isn't talking to the media. His chief deputy says the new boss knew nothing about the hidden cash. At this point, there are only accusations from Aluisi and two of his former assistants, who all have admitted to being part of the deception. They say Black was part of a 1993 meeting during which they debated whether to turn over the money.Soon after he took office last year, Black ordered an audit and issued internal memos ordering all his employees to cooperate. He even warned that the internal affairs division would investigate any "missing property, monies or funds."Here is where things get smelly.The fiscal manager who blew the whistle, Harold Irv Smith, learned in January, just two months after tipping off the auditors, that he was being placed on administrative leave and that the department was planning to eliminate his job. His job was the only one targeted for what sheriff's officials described as a typical reduction in force. Those same officials say they didn't even know that Smith was the tipster.Yeah, right.Black sure didn't go out of his way to thank Smith or give him any awards for letting everyone in on the former sheriff's big secret. Seems to me that if Black were truly surprised about the money, he would have been grateful to Smith--grateful enough to find another place in the department for a man who gave nearly 20 years of service.But instead, Smith had to hire an attorney, who ultimately pushed the department into hashing out a deal that will enable Smith to stay on the payroll through November and retire with full benefits.Here's another thing that doesn't smell so hot: Documents give conflicting accounts of exactly how much cash was confiscated. A detailed inventory filed by defense lawyers put the amount at $45,638. Another court document prepared by sheriff's deputies says there was $45,653.But the department's incident report on the raid and the amount department officials finally turned over to the county in December says $44,653 was discovered. That's a discrepancy of about $1,000.Black has launched an investigation, and so far, the County Council seems content to let him handle the matter. But a thorough probe would have to examine, among other things, whether Black participated in the scheme to break the law.Given that, how can Black impartially investigate himself? He indeed may be innocent, but voters may not tolerate the smell if he or someone who works for him is the one to make that final judgment.Part of the problem is that the county has no inspector general or local investigator to look into such matters. For the sake of the public's trust, this might not be a bad time to consider one.But in the meantime, anybody got any Lysol?To comment or suggest a story idea, feel free to write me at 14402 Old Mill Rd., Suite 201, Upper Marlboro, Md., 20772; send me an e-mail at frazierL; or call me at 301-952-2083.Wednesday, February 9, 2000; Page M02  Copyright 2000 The Washington Post CompanyRelated Articles:Council Untroubled By Sheriff's Actions Sheriff's Office Hid Seized Cash 
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Comment #2 posted by Happy on February 09, 2000 at 13:29:56 PT:
Help:I need article like this from Almont,MI!
The police cheif was caught and fired for having his hands in the drug war till, does anyone have an article or a link?
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Comment #1 posted by kaptinemo on February 09, 2000 at 11:00:09 PT
No honor among (police) thieves
I mean, really now. The sheriff knew what the law was. And he broke it. Plain and simple. But will he go to jail? Nooooo. Why?Because he's THE LAW, that's why. Again and again and again: Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Police are no more or less immune from that fact than the average citizen is. Of course, many know that. But just like a novice heroin user, thinking they'll never be addicted, cops never think that they will ever be corrupted. And what is the primary source of the corruption? Money seized in forfeitures. Remove the entire matter of illegality from drug usage, and you remove the profit motive. Remove the profit motive, you remove the huge temptation of easily 'acquired' (translation: stolen) cash. And you remove the spectre of corruption of LEO's.You don't need to be Einstein to figure it out.
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