From 2002 to 2008, [Garza] used the funds for himself and to supplement employee salaries without approval. An audit showed more than $4.2 million went to salary supplements for Garza and at least three of his employees, and trips to casinos. Three secretaries received more than $1 million during a five-year period — or more than $66,000 per secretary per year, effectively doubling or tripling their pay. Garza said the secretaries deserved it.Meanwhile, Collette reported yesterday in a separate item ("Former Brooks County Sheriff under investigation for use of seized cash"), the former Brooks County Sheriff has his own asset-forfeiture related woes, reports Collette:
As part of the plea deal, Garza was sentenced to 10 years in prison, which was suspended for 10 years probation. Garza spent six months in jail as a condition of probation and was forced to surrender his law license. He also was ordered to pay $2.16 million in restitution and a $10,000 fine.
State law requires custodians of forfeiture funds to submit detailed budgets outlining how they intend to use the money. Garza said he didn't understand the budget requirement because the statute was "so confusing."
In 2001 the statute contained the same requirement it has today for district attorneys: "The budget must be detailed and clearly list and define the categories of expenditures."
Garza said the law, which allows district attorneys to used seized funds for official purposes, lets the district attorney determine what qualifies as an official purpose. He claimed he asked state officials in 2000 whether there were limitations on how he could use the money and was told, "You can spend it for whatever, so long as you don't put it in your wallet."
He said he received advice from a county auditor and county judge who told him he didn't need to submit budgets for forfeiture fund expenditures.
The state's prosecutors didn't buy it.
"He knew better," Assistant Attorney General Shane Attaway said when Garza took the plea deal. "This is pure greed. This isn't an accident."
Garza complained that the audit of his funds and subsequent prosecution were politically motivated.
An auditor found more than $500,000 in questionable purchases through former Brooks County Sheriff Balde Lozano's criminal asset forfeiture funds, prompting a local prosecutor to refer the matter to the Texas Attorney General's office.Indeed, Lozano shouldn't spend too much time wondering why he's being dragged back into it! Reports Collette, "State law requires sheriffs, district attorneys and other officials who oversee seizure funds to submit forms yearly to the state comptroller and Texas attorney general detailing the money and seized property flowing through the funds and listing how much money was spent in various categories, such as salaries, equipment and travel expenses. There is no record of Lozano submitting the paperwork during his 12 years in office." Whoops.
According to the audit, some of the purchases were channeled through funds controlled by Joe Frank Garza, the former 79th District Attorney who pleaded guilty in March to a felony charge for paying himself and his employees more than $2 million from his office's forfeiture fund without county commissioners' approval.
Lozano, 59, who is now a Falfurrias police officer, was sheriff from 1997 through 2009. He did not accept requests for an interview but provided a written statement saying the audit was politically motivated.
"I have been out of politics for the last three years," Lozano wrote. "It seems like the present sheriff's administration continues to try to drag me back into it."
Further, wrote Collette, "The county has no record of any budgets submitted by Lozano. The audit reports that when a county auditor raised objections about the sheriff's spending, Lozano and Garza replied with statements such as 'the sheriff can do whatever he wants with his money.'" Big ticket item to be accounted for include $88K in credit card purchases which appear mostly unrelated to law enforcement. Also, "About $394,000 was spent to buy 18 vehicles, apparently without competitive purchasing procedures. The auditor had difficulty tracking what happened to the vehicles and whether the county received money when they were sold." (Here's a copy of the October 2011 audit (pdf) of the Sheriff's asset forfeiture fund.)
So the former DA in Brooks and Jim Wells counties pled guilty to a first-degree felony for overpaying himself and his staff with asset-forfeiture money, but thinks he did nothing wrong. Meanwhile, the ex-Brooks County Sheriff treated asset forfeiture money as his own private slush fund with little accountability. One wonders what similar audits would find in other jurisdictions? Are these examples outliers or would similar self dealing and/or misappropriations be discovered elsewhere, if anyone bothered to look?
MORE: From Texas Watchdog.