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Selling GTO seized in drug raid nets extra cash for sheriff's department

PULASKI COUNTY, Mo. (Dec. 30, 2010) — Sheriff J.B. King loves his little GTO — or at least his 30 percent of a 1970 GTO seized in St. Louis as part of a drug investigation that involved Pulaski County.

While rollbars and helmets to be ready to go in a four-speed GTO aren’t on the list of authorized equipment, King said he can buy from a long list of other items approved by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration for equipment purchases using the proceeds from seized property used in drug trafficking. In this case, the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Department will receive a $3,999.22 check from the DEA that could be used for training or for overtime for drug interdictions, but most likely will go for equipment purchases.

“The list is very long; everything from prisoner cages for cars to electronic surveillance to bulletproof vest to new weapons. I mean, the equipment field is almost unlimited,” King said.

The money comes from a May 2008 case.

“We assisted the Drug Enforcement Administration with an investigation that had come into Pulaski County,” King said. “They were looking for some people here; we spent roughly two days feeding the DEA agents intelligence, going with them to locate people … we set up a number of interviews. The investigation, I know, branched on from what the DEA was doing here.”

As a result of the work done in Pulaski County, federal agents seized the 1970 GTO in St. Louis County, and under federal forfeiture laws, property used in drug transactions can be sold with the money going back to the local law enforcement agencies that assisted in the federal arrest. Pulaski County’s share in that work was 30 percent, so King’s office was allotted $3,999.22 from the car, which sold for more than $13,000.

King should have gotten the money last week, but that didn’t happen due to a bookkeeping error.

“The U.S. Marshals attempted to send us a wire transfer of money,” King said. “Unfortunately we hadn’t updated the (banking) form; they sent it to the wrong bank. The bank sent it back. I have this morning, faxed in the correct (banking) information to the marshal’s service.”

The money received wouldn’t go very far if used for overtime payments to deputies for more drug interdiction work, so King said the money will likely go to projects such as bullet-resistant ballistic vests. Those cost about $600 each, he said; another option would be to buy three TASERs for about $4,000.

“One of the keys to my success in recent years has been the fact that I’ve been able to, using the Wall Street term, leverage my funds together, and while that $4,000 might not be so great, if I can combine it with $4,000 from my civil fee fund, now I am in a position to make an $8,000 purchase,” King said.

That’s possible by setting up a special account for drug forfeiture funds to provide the necessary bookkeeping records for the DEA to document that the money was only used for acceptable purchases, he said. In addition, a different federal program allows local law enforcement agencies to buy one extra ballistic vest for each vest purchased locally.

Some police departments actually use the seized vehicles as patrol cars or for other fleet purposes — in St. Robert, a seized drug van was turned over to the joint Waynesville-St. Robert Airport for use as a passenger shuttle vehicle — but adding a GTO to the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Department fleet probably wouldn’t be practical. Using the money from selling the GTO for buying ballistic vests isn’t just a matter of looking fine or trying to look like the “coolest thing around,” but rather of officer safety, King emphasized. King said he wants to save all his money to get the best equipment possible for that purpose.

“For every vest I buy, the feds buy one for us,” King said. “My philosophy is quite simple: if you’re working for me as a paid officer, you will have a good quality, up-to-date vest; if you’re working for me as a reservist who does a lot of work, you’re going to get a new vest, end of story. If somebody says that’s wasteful, OK, that’s your opinion, thank you, the guys are going to get a vest, end of story.”

Two of King’s deputies have been shot since he became sheriff in 2005.

“I’ve had one officer take two shotgun blasts at 20 feet; I’ve had one officer take four .45-caliber slugs, so no, my people are going to have good vests,” King said. “I routinely wear a vest every day to set the example and my guys are going to be wearing them and have them on.”

Drug interdiction work can be quite lucrative for local law enforcement, King acknowledged, but he said using the $3,999.22 from the GTO for overtime for that purpose wouldn’t be productive.

“It’s not enough money; to do a drug interdiction you have to keep at it long term,” King said. “$4,000 is not going to get you anywhere.”

However, sending additional deputies to drug interdiction school may be an option using the drug training clause of the DEA forfeiture law.

“Instead of just the two people I’ve got who have been through interdiction school who are trying to keep their eyes open for narcotic loads going through and transport, I would have five or six, and that would increase the chances that we would get a load and be able to get a controlled delivery and do asset forfeitures and all the other things that are possible, the things that you can do to give you money for the future,” King said.

Other local agencies, most notably the Waynesville Police Department with a large bust in the Witmore Farms parking lot and the St. Robert Police Department with a long-running program that has helped to pull drug dealers off Interstate 44, have received large amounts of drug interdiction funding.

“When you play a part in the case, you’re going to receive a portion,” King said. “It’s no big secret that the DEA intercepted $238,000 in cold hard cash as a result of that (Witmore Farms) case. That’s sitting out there, and eventually that’s going to be divvied.”

“Like Yakov says down in Branson, ‘What a country!’” King said. “We did our job, we helped the world, we cut the drug situation, and now we’re going to get a bonus because we did it.”

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