Drug forfeiture funds returned to township
Jun. 20, 2017 PLYMOUTH VOICE.
Plymouth Michigan News
The Plymouth Township Police Department is showing signs of recovery after a probe by U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) into the accounting practices used by township officials for federal drug forfeiture funds.
The federal investigation that continued for nearly three years in the midst of a departmental sex scandal and several whistleblower lawsuits has ended, according to Police Chief Tom Tiderington.
Missing funds, incomplete reports, inaccurate and faulty records and a failure of generally accepted accounting practices prompted both the state and federal government to take punitive action against Plymouth Township including a freeze of $185,000 of drug forfeiture funds and the withholding of nearly $400,000 of funds due the township.
Federal officials had threatened to extinguish Plymouth Township from the program which has generated $1.9 million since 2010 if immediate corrective action was not forthcoming.
Last week, Tiderington announced that he had received a letter dated May 18, from the Office of the Inspector General, Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section, releasing frozen drug forfeiture funds that were seized in April 2016.
“Plymouth Township Police Department is now a compliant Equitable Sharing Program participant…” stated the letter signed by Jennifer Bickford, deputy chief. The township had received $1.9 million from the program between January 2010 and September 2014.
The purpose of the initial federal audit targeting the police department and then- Township Supervisor Richard Reaume was to assess whether equitable shared revenue and property were accounted for properly and used for allowable purposes. The auditors asked about lawsuits against the police department with descriptions of the litigation and to account for any “personal benefit in excess of $50 per year received by any official or employee from vendors or other companies working with the police agency that have been paid with federal asset forfeiture of DOJ grant and contract funds.”
In January 2014, two police officers in Plymouth Township resigned after being on paid administrative leave for almost four months. Their resignations came as a result of an illicit sexual relationship one of them had with a female officer who brought suit against township for wrongful termination. When her attorney subpoenaed township emails and other communications, the relationship, along with the dereliction of duty of another officer and the lack of attention paid to the situation by the sergeant in charge, were discovered.
The federal audit found the township to be non-compliant with accounting procedures and regulations as former Treasurer Ron Edwards had control of the drug forfeiture records, accounts and actual funds. Federal rules require that the police chief or chief law enforcement official control the funds and complete the necessary reports and accounting.
Tiderington said Edwards did not allow him access to the financial reports or bank accounts linked to the drug forfeiture funds, prompting him to seek help from the justice department. He admitted last August that he did, in fact, notify the federal officials of the discrepancies. The DOJ sent auditors to the police department and township hall in August of 2014. At that time, the former slate of township officials attempted to obfuscate the situation and continued to refer to the investigation as a “training exercise” when questioned about the presence of the auditors.
The federal auditors determined that under Edwards’ supervision, money from the drug forfeiture funds was used to pay civilian salaries, a clear violation of federal rules in addition to his unlawful control of the bank accounts. Federal officials demanded that $185,000 be returned from the township general fund to the drug forfeiture fund. Edwards protested the repayment claiming that the money had already been returned, although both the township auditing firm, Plante Moran, and the federal forensic auditors could not verify any such transfer.
No criminal charges have as yet been filed in the misuse of the funds.