Federal audit finds drug task force misused more than $300,000

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HENRY COUNTY, Ind. -  A federal audit found several agencies that are part of a drug task force in Henry, Hancock and Wayne counties misused more than $300,000.

The Office of the Inspector General and the U.S. Justice Department released the audit detailing the money used by the Pro-Active Criminal Enforcement (PACE) team in 2014 and 2015. The team includes deputies and officers from the Henry County Sheriff's Office, the Hancock County Sheriff's Office, the Richmond Police Department and the Greenfield Police Department. Members of the team are focused on patrolling portions of I-70 to curb drug trafficking across state lines.

Money is often seized during traffic stops involving drugs. Some of that money ends up going back to the local agency that makes the arrest. The federal government has specific rules about  how that money can be used.

The audit found the Henry County Sheriff's Office used the money to pay for vehicles for other agencies on the PACE team. The office also utilized the funds to pay salary and fringe benefits for a deputy on the task force. The total expenses reached more than $186,000.

The report also mentions the Hancock County Sheriff's Office used the seized money to provide a $5,200 stipend to a deputy on the same task force. Also according to the report, the Richmond Police Department paid their officer assigned to the task force over $121,000 from this funding source.

In total, $313,052 in seized money was used in ways not approved by the federal government.

But, the Henry County Sheriff's Office says no law was broken.

"There is no criminality involved in this whatsoever," said Rebecca Baker, business manager for the Henry County Sheriff's Office. "The vehicles were accounted for. All the funds spent were used for law enforcement. It’s just a rule of how you could spend it."

Instead, the business manager said the issues are due to minimal guidance from the Department of Justice.

"We listed that these purchases were made for vehicles for all four agencies and they accepted," she said. "So we were shocked a little bit [about audit results]."

Baker also noted the rules on how this money could be spent changed in 2014.

"They could’ve rejected it," Baker said. "And, we could’ve made the correction in ’14 when they changed the rules."

Baker said the Henry County Sheriff's Office is currently waiting for a remedy from the Department of Justice.

FOX59 reached out to the Hancock County Sheriff's Office and the Richmond Police Department, but calls and emails were not returned. Read the full report here.

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