Pubdate: Fri, 21 Jul 2000
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Copyright: 2000 The Washington Post Company
Page: B01
Contact:  1150 15th Street Northwest, Washington, DC 20071
Author: Tom Jackman, Washington Post Staff Writer
Cited: Criminal Justice Policy Foundation:


The Fairfax County police officer in charge of the money and property 
seized from criminals pleaded guilty in federal court yesterday to stealing 
$330,000 of those proceeds over a six-year period before his retirement 
last year.

Daniel B. Garrett III, 51, was the first and only asset forfeiture officer 
for Fairfax from the time the job was created in 1989, and police 
acknowledged yesterday that they had little oversight of Garrett as he 
processed millions of dollars seized in narcotics cases.

That system has since changed dramatically, Fairfax Police Chief J. Thomas 
Manger said yesterday, expressing bitter disappointment that Garrett had 
violated a position of trust.

"This was a very embarrassing incident," Manger said. "This guy betrayed 
us. He betrayed our trust, and as far as I'm concerned, there's no penalty 
that will do this justice."

Garrett could not be reached for comment yesterday, and his attorney, Alan 
H. Yamamoto, declined to comment.

All the thefts involved cash. Garrett stole money from the police property 
room about 190 times from 1993 to 1999, according to court records. Neither 
police nor federal authorities would discuss how Garrett spent the money, 
other than to say it went for "personal uses."

Criminal justice experts said that thefts from police storage lockers are 
not unusual but that they typically involve much smaller amounts of money 
or property taken over shorter periods of time. "This is certainly an 
enormous sum," said Eric E. Sterling, president of the Criminal Justice 
Policy Foundation.

No one suspected wrongdoing when Garrett retired in May 1999 after a 
28-year police career. He was about to be transferred out of the Fairfax 
narcotics unit for unrelated reasons. When Garrett's successor took over 
the asset forfeiture job, Manger said, discrepancies were noticed. Manger 
then asked the FBI to take over the case, to avoid any perception of bias 
in the investigation.

A few months ago, federal prosecutors began negotiations with Garrett and 
Yamamoto, which resulted in Garrett's entering a plea yesterday to one 
count of theft from a program receiving federal funds. Under federal 
guidelines, Garrett faces a sentence of 18 to 24 months in federal prison, 
and he must make restitution of the full $330,000. Garrett remains free 
until his sentencing Oct. 6.

Fairfax police make substantial seizures about 30 to 40 times a year, said 
Capt. Frank Wernlein, commander of the organized crime and narcotics 
division. About 90 percent of those seizures are then sent through state 
court for possible forfeiture. Since 1989, Fairfax police have reaped more 
than $4.1 million in seized revenue.

While forfeiture cases were moving through the system, the money sat in the 
Fairfax police property room. That, according to court records, is when 
Garrett would take his cut.

In July 1998, for example, police seized $52,371 from a suspected drug 
trafficker. Garrett acknowledged yesterday that he took most of that money.

About 140 of the 190 thefts from the property room involved amounts of less 
than $1,000. On 19 occasions, Garrett took seized money that was kept in 
other places, and the amount in those cases was not listed in court records.

"I think we were in the mind-set that we didn't need to worry about a 
dishonest cop," Manger said. "Perhaps we were naive. But it worked for 60 
years [the age of the Fairfax police department]. It could go on for this 
long because he was the only one that was doing his job. People trusted him."

Sterling said police forfeiture officers sometimes try to circumvent laws 
requiring them to share with non-police groups the proceeds seized from 
criminals. That may foster an attitude that leads officers "to think they . 
. . can break the law" by keeping the money for themselves, Sterling said. 
The Fairfax police department, however, is not required to share its 
proceeds with non-police groups.

Investigators said they do not believe anyone else was involved in the 
thefts, and Wernlein detailed extensive checks and procedures that are now 
in place for handling forfeited cash and assets. 
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