DOJ orders Bal Harbour Police to return seized money
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BAL HARBOUR, Fla. (WSVN) -- A federal crime fighting program based out of South Florida has been shut down by the Justice Department.
After a lengthy investigation that began last year and exposed concerns about expenses and missing records, the DOJ ordered the disbandment of the village of Bal Harbour's federal forfeiture program. This small police department of the Village of Bal Harbour, federal authorities claim, was responsible for seizing millions of dollars worth of drug money. Bal Harbour officers would travel across the country to participate in this program.
What has raised eyebrows, however, involves the allocation of funds gathered from that seized drug money. On Thursday, concerned citizens packed into the village hall to learn more and ask questions of the Chief of Police. "People say, this is all about the money," said Bal Harbour Police Chief Thomas Hunker, "and anybody that's known me for the almost 40 years I've been a cop knows it's not about the money."
Hunker spoke to the media after he addressed the crowd at the village hall. "There were statements made, very vague and broad statements made that there was no oversight, that there was no prosecutorial oversight," he said. "That's not true."
Resident Deana Chilini is concerned hearing this latest news, which involves not only the end of the federal forfeiture program but also an order that Bal Harbour Police return $4 million in funds. "I've seen a pattern of hedging," she said, "a lack of transparency on the part of the chief, and he just, you know, rules the roost here."
The feds are also investigating whether members of the Bal Harbour Police force used some of that money for first class airline tickets, luxury hotels and misused the money on police salaries. Kenneth Each, however, supports the chief. "You're taking the money away from the dope dealers and returning it back to the citizens," he said. "It's a good business model."
In the meantime, the Village of Bal Harbour has hired its own attorney to investigate these allegations. Mayor Jean Rosenfield said, "I think that we should review and we should ask questions and we should give answers that are transparent."
Many citizens at the meeting asked why a small police department would get involved in a federal program like this. Hunker responded, "Because we had the knowledge and the ability to do it, and if we don't do it, we're derelict."
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