Pubdate: Sat, 22 Feb 2003
Source: Times Daily (Florence, AL)
Copyright: 2003 Times Daily
Author: Mike Goens, Senior Editor


FBI Joins Investigation Into Drug-fighting Group

A reorganized Lauderdale County Drug Task Force could be operating again by 
March 1.

That's the goal of the four sponsoring agencies involved in the task force, 
which was formed to fight illegal drug activity in the county.

Task force operations were suspended Feb. 7 because of what board members 
described as personnel issues. They have not elaborated.

Since then, individual agencies have been working drug cases within their 

"We're in the process of regrouping, and I'd like to see us up and running 
again by the end of next week," said Florence Police Chief Rick Singleton. 
"I think that is a reachable goal."

The task force has become a part of an investigation that was launched 
after its offices were burglarized in September. More than $30,000 and a 
variety of drugs and case documents were reportedly stolen. Board members 
asked the Alabama Bureau of Investigation to handle the case. Sources say 
the investigation has expanded into other areas related to the task force.

FBI special resident agent Dan Girsch confirmed Friday that his agency has 
been asked to assist the ABI in

the investigation.

"We're working jointly, but the ABI is still leading the investigation," 
Girsch said. "We're assisting them in any way they need us."

Girsch said the FBI's involvement is a result of allegations of public 
corruption, but he did not elaborate.

ABI officials have confirmed they are investigating the break-in but have 
not mentioned the nature of the allegations they have uncovered or if they 
directly related to any task force member.

Lauderdale County District Attorney Steve Graham said the decision to 
suspend operations was not linked to the investigation. No member of the 
task force has been accused of wrongdoing.

Graham said he wants to see the unit back in business as quickly as 
possible. He doesn't want to tip his hand as to when the unit will be 
reactivated, though.

"What I'd love to do is get it going again without them knowing it," he 
said. "We want them thinking we're not working cases."

The four-member task force is made up of representatives from the 
Lauderdale County District Attorney's Office, the police department, 
sheriff's office and the University of North Alabama

Heads of all four agencies will make appointments to the task force. Some 
of those could be ones serving at the time the task force was suspended.

Graham said he hasn't made a decision about who will represent his office 
on the task force. Sheriff Ronnie Willis says he will make a change.

UNA and Florence police are likely to reappoint their members, but those 
decisions have not been finalized, officials said.

"I don't think it would be wise to have four new agents," Singleton said. 
"If we do that, we would be starting over from ground zero. We need some 
continuity and knowledge about active cases. I'd like to see maybe two 
people who have been there reassigned.

"It will be up to each agency head and the agents, who need to determine 
whether they want to go back."

The task force is funded primarily through a state grant. The current grant 
ends April 1.

The agencies have already reapplied for a grant that would continue 
operations. Without the money, each department would continue working cases 

"We need to continue the task force," Singleton said. "It's important to 
our entire county, and we've had a lot of successes." 
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