10th Judicial District Drug Task Force gets clean audit report

10th Judicial District Drug Task Force gets clean audit report

June 24th, 2013 by Judy Walton in Local Regional News

Steve Lawson

Photo by Jake Daniels /Times Free Press.

State auditors give the 10th Judicial District Drug Task Force a clean bill of health in the agency's 2012 audit, released today.

"Our review disclosed no material findings and recommendations in this district," auditors in the Tennessee Comptroller's Office wrote of the task force, which covers Bradley, McMinn, Monroe and Polk counties.

That's a change from past years, when the state comptroller's office slammed the task force for tens of thousands of dollars in improper or undocumented spending under former director Mike Hall.

Hall resigned in late summer of 2010 amid allegations of improper spending and questions whether he was using drugs illegally. Results of a TBI investigation were presented to a grand jury, but Hall was not indicted.

Steve Lawson, who succeeded Hall as drug task force director, said in an interview Friday he has worked to restore order and confidence in the agency's operations.

Changing the agency's direction involved everyone there, he said.

"You've got to have somebody to steer the ship, but some people here should really have the credit," he said.

Hall used his task force credit card for meals, hotel rooms and other expenses that couldn't be documented as legitimate expenses, earlier audits stated.

Lawson said that's not his style.

"I believe in documentation -- if we spend a dime, I want to know why we're spending it and what for," he said. "What it boils down to is making sure things run, making sure you're accountable -- it's like tax money."

The audit showed the task force had $566,714 in revenue for the 2012 fiscal year. That included $391,698 from forfeitures and seizures and $89,305 in court fines.

The task force spent $976,748 on operations and ended the year with $1,589,388 in the bank.

Lawson said the task force must adjust to new drug threats.

Methamphetamine -- "the worst drug I ever saw in my lifetime" -- is an ongoing problem, but prescription pill abuse is skyrocketing, he said.

Lawson said he has halved the number of agents on the interdiction team -- the highly visible officers who pull over suspected drug and money couriers on Interstate 75.

State Rep. Eric Watson, R-Cleveland, who expressed concern about drug task force operations under Hall, praised Lawson's management.

"I'm proud of the job that Director Lawson is doing for our district. He's brought the task force a long ways," Watson said.

Contact staff writer Judy Walton at 423-757-6416 or jwalton@timesfreepress.com.