Pittsburgh police official thought use of drug fund for Gatorade, travel, was proper
Share with others:
Funds gleaned from drug busts were used for Gatorade, travel, training and other miscellaneous expenses because Pittsburgh Bureau of Police brass had no reason to believe that there was any problem with such uses, Assistant Chief Maurita Bryant said Thursday.
Chief Bryant signed off on many of the expenses detailed in a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story Wednesday. The story indicated that while federal law allowed the use of funds gained through joint federal-and-local drug busts for any law enforcement activity, a city code provision from 1987 said the funds were limited to "any and all expenses associated with investigations of narcotics violations."
"I watch carefully anything dealing with money because I don't want nobody saying that I misused something, took something, did anything," Chief Bryant said. "So I'm careful about it."
When federal and local agencies team up on a drug investigation, and the Department of Justice confiscates money or assets of the defendants, the locals can apply for a share of the forfeit funds. The city places its share in the Confiscated Narcotics Proceeds Trust Fund. The bureau draws from that cash, in $30,000 increments, which is kept in a safe and is referred to as the Confiscated Narcotics Proceeds Imprest Fund.
Concerns in city government about the use of, and accounting for, that money date back to at least late 2009, when city solicitor Dan Regan wrote a memo stating that the use of $9,547 from the imprest fund to buy Gatorade was "inappropriate," because it wasn't "associated with investigations of narcotics violations." The city reimbursed the imprest fund from its general coffers, and the federal government later paid the cost as part of its coverage of expenses related to the G-20 Summit.
Then in 2010, Controller Michael Lamb's office audited the trust fund, cited the city code language saying that it was meant for narcotics probes, and criticized slipshod accounting -- but not the nature of the expenditures. An audit of the trust fund in 2013 also cited the 1987 code provision, but again didn't critique the expenditures.
The Post-Gazette found that among expenses paid from confiscated narcotics funds were tens of thousands of dollars of travel and training with no clear relation to narcotics investigations.
"I kind of went by what was done previously," said Chief Bryant, who oversaw narcotics when she was assistant chief of investigations. That post was previously held by Regina McDonald, now the acting chief.
Chief Bryant said she was unaware of the city resolution restricting imprest fund use to narcotics investigations until the Post-Gazette wrote about it, and was still unclear as to whether it also applied to the similarly named trust fund. She said she was aware that the solicitor ruled against the use of the imprest fund for Gatorade but did not recall reading the two-page memo.
And she said that when the controller audited the trust fund, "nobody said you shouldn't have did this, shouldn't have did that."
Chief Bryant said the bureau taps the trust fund periodically -- records suggest around once per quarter -- for checks in the amount of $30,000. The checks are cashed, and the cash is kept in a safe.
Detectives fill out vouchers for amounts needed to pay confidential sources and make investigatory drug buys. A Post-Gazette review found that the amounts drawn for such uses were sometimes as small as a few hundred dollars but ranged up to $8,000 at a time.
Chief Bryant said the detectives have to account for their use of the funds, internally, but for security reasons the details are kept within the bureau.
She said the bureau began leaning more on funds from drug forfeitures when a line item for investigation expenses was reduced. Now homicide and kidnapping investigation expenses are often paid for in part through the seized assets of drug dealers.
Sometimes, if the bureau needs to make a purchase quickly, it will draw from the confiscated narcotics money, and then later pay the fund back, she said.
The Post-Gazette reported that training related to polygraph testing, legal issues and even debt reduction were paid for through confiscated narcotics proceeds.
She said such decisions were made by bureau finance manager Sandra J. Ganster. Ms. Ganster is on paid administrative leave, and her attorney could not be reached for comment late Thursday.
Chief Bryant said officers don't decide how their training is paid for. "All somebody knows is they want to go to training," she said, and the personnel and finance manager and chief decide how it is funded.
She said that without any reminder or clarification of the 1987 city code provision, bureau officials made decisions based on necessity and past practice.
"If it wasn't correct," she said, "we wouldn't get another $30,000."
First Published March 15, 2013 12:00 am