Audit finds fault with state's drug task forces

Audit finds fault with state's drug task forces

July 13th, 2011 by Andy Sher in News

NASHVILLE - Crooked drug dealers aren't the only thorn sticking in the side of Tennessee's local judicial drug task forces, according to a state comptroller audit.

Six of the 24 multijurisdictional task forces - one out of every four - were plagued by problems of their own making such as sloppy record keeping, double billing for meals and missing equipment, state auditors found in a review of special funds operated under the auspices of district attorneys general during fiscal year 2009-10.

Among those with problems is the 10th Judicial District Drug and Violent Crimes Task Force, which operates in Bradley, Polk, McMinn and Monroe counties.

Auditors are calling on the former 10th Judicial District director, Mike Hall, to repay the agency $311 for six travel advances. After getting the money, Hall charged up another $698.42 on credit cards "for meals and incidentals covered by these same advances," the audit says.

While acknowledging that Hall's charges included meals for other people, auditors pointed out they couldn't "identify the special meals and incidentals incurred by the director" because of spotty documentation.

In fact, slipshod record keeping was part of a pattern at the 10th Judicial Task Force, auditors reported, noting they found that $17,196.25 of nearly $54,000 worth of credit card expenditures did not have adequate documentation.

"We were unable to determine if these expenditures (meals, travel, lodging) were directly related to investigations and appropriate uses of Drug Task Force funds," the comptroller's report says.

It went on to warn that the "lack of detailed documentation increases the risks of fraud and abuse."

Hall left the agency last September. Efforts to reach him Tuesday at a Florida church where he reportedly went to work after leaving the task force were unsuccessful.

District Attorney General Steven Bebb of the 10th District said that he was "very upset" by the report's findings.

"I think even the TBI [Tennessee Bureau of Investigation] said that I didn't do a good job of oversight, which I probably didn't," Bebb said, noting that the new director has made changes. "I don't know if anything criminal happened, but there's a pro tem [special] DA looking at that. The operations are fine. There's no money missing."

"There was some money used to go on seminars and things where they didn't bring back their receipts, and the former director [Hall] owes $311," Bebb said. "But we want to get to the bottom of whether there is documentation or there isn't."

He said a special district attorney has been selected but declined to identify him, noting the appointment must be approved by a judge.

The state's 24 drug task forces are created by contract between the local district attorney and city and county governments. Task forces includes sheriffs and police chiefs and are governed by a board of directors.

Six of the state's 31 judicial districts, including Hamilton County's, do not have drug task forces under the DA's auspices. But district attorneys often operate other types of funds. Auditors found no material problems with a district attorney fund run by Hamilton County DA Bill Cox in the 11th District.

Joe Kimery, assistant director over financial compliance audit for state Comptroller Justin Wilson, said the report on various funds administered in the 31 Judicial Districts "as a whole is not a bad report. There's not too many findings" in comparison to some past years.

The report details no findings of fraud, he said.

One of the problems auditors face, Kimery said, is "you're dealing with law enforcement people who want to be out working the streets and not [doing] paperwork, so that's always a challenge."

But proper accounting is important, he said.