Plymouth Township Treasurer Ron Edwards
Oct. 9, 2015 PLYMOUTH EAGLE.
Plymouth Michigan News
The long-awaited results of the Department of Justice (DOJ) audit of the drug forfeiture accounts in Plymouth Township were released last week by Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz.
The formal investigation, initially referred to by township officials as “training” when federal auditors arrived from Chicago in August 2014, found several violations of federal guidelines, many of which centered on Township Treasurer Ron Edwards establishing at least one bank account under his control for the funds and his failure to provide records and receipts to Police Chief Tom Tiderington, both violations of federal guidelines.
While township officials initially denied the audit was taking place, they later claimed they had “requested” the forensic examination of federal funds received as a result of drug forfeitures.
Plymouth Township received nearly $2 million as a share of funds from forfeited assets derived from illegal activities. As provided by federal law, those assets can only be used for the support of law enforcement activities and require strict reporting and accounting procedures. The funds, by those guidelines, must be administered and managed by the chief of police in the municipality.
The auditing team said in the report that the treasurer’s unauthorized and irregular control of the funding was a violation of federal procedures. They also questioned Edwards’ failure to reimburse the bank account he had inappropriately established and controlled. In one instance, auditors said, more than $94,000 was not in the account for more than 2 years and 3 months. Those funds were identified as a “rebate” on the purchase of four police vehicles from a manufacturer. Edwards said he deposited the funds in the state drug forfeiture account rather than the account for federal forfeiture funds and adjusted the accounts when the error was discovered. He did not transfer the total amount but claimed that about $13,000 in the federal account should have been in the state account so he transferred only the amount necessary to correct the balances. The auditors called those actions a violation of standard accounting procedures. The auditors also questioned the use of about $25,000 of the funds, but township officials in a written response to the audit, said that they would appeal this finding as they felt the expenses fell within the specific spending guidelines for the federal funds.
Auditors found no missing or unaccounted for drug forfeiture-funds, according to the report.
Tiderington failed to sign a required quarterly report submitted more than three months late regarding the use of the funds. He told auditors that he was not allowed to receive copies of the bank statements associated with the DOJ equitable sharing program, and therefore, he could not ensure that the equitable sharing funds were being appropriately handled. Tiderington was hesitant to comment on the findings Monday.
“I don’t know any more than what’s in the audit. We’re going to try to correct the deficiencies. It’s somewhat of a complicated situation. That’s my goal in order to get us back into compliance,” Tiderington said.
“Our audit identified numerous internal control issues, including a lack of documented policies and procedures that weakened the Plymouth Township PD’s (Police Department) management of its equitable sharing activities, as well as incomplete compliance with DOJ requirements pertaining to accounting for equitable sharing receipts and the allowable use of equitable sharing funds,” the report stated.
According to the report, Edwards never provided records and receipts to Tiderington.
“The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) assessed whether the $1,907,242 in DOJ equitable sharing funds received by the Plymouth Township PD between Jan.1, 2010, and Sept. 30, 2014, was properly accounted for and used for allowable purposes “Specifically, we found that the Plymouth Township commingled DOJ equitable sharing funds with other funds in its accounting system,” auditors said.
The auditors made 12 recommendations to the DOJ Criminal Division to address the financial findings and improve the management of the equitable sharing program activities in the township.
“The Criminal Division, through its Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section, agreed with all of 12 recommendations,” Horowitz said.
In a response to the draft report, Plymouth Township officials expressed agreement with most of the recommendations, disagreeing only on one issue of questionable costs. Township Supervisor Shannon Price, Edwards and Tiderington stated that they would work with the Criminal Division to address all of the concerns identified in the report in a written response to the Department of Justice. The three officials agreed in writing to prepare a written set of policies and procedures to ensure compliance with the federally-mandated requirements for the drug forfeiture funds in the future. The complete report can be found at https://oig.justice.gov/reports/2015/g5015007.pdf.
John Lavinsky, a spokesman with the DOJ, said that the file on the investigation will not be closed until the DOJ is satisfied that all 12 of the recommendations have been followed by township officials.
Photos: (c) Plymouth Eagle