Pubdate: Sun, 20 Apr 2003
Source: Times Daily (Florence, AL)
Copyright: 2003 Times Daily
Author: Mike Goens


Grand Jury Expected To Review Evidence In May

FLORENCE - A state and federal investigation into possible corruption 
within the Lauderdale County Drug Task Force has revealed allegations of 
unauthorized deals made to drop or lower charges against drug suspects in 
exchange for money or vehicles, the TimesDaily has learned.

Forged documents, missing vehicles and misuse of task force money are also 
part of the investigation, according to numerous sources, including four 
who were interviewed by investigators.

No charges have been filed. A federal grand jury, however, is expected to 
convene in May or June to review evidence, authorities said. Grand jurors 
could choose to file criminal indictments or determine there's not enough 
evidence to warrant criminal charges.

Alabama Bureau of Investigation agents have been looking into task force 
operations since a theft was reported at the unit's office in September. 
Sources say the investigation has snowballed into many other areas.

ABI officials have confirmed they were asked to look into the burglary, but 
they refuse to disclose what their investigation has revealed.

FBI agents have also joined the investigation because some of the 
allegations could involve federal charges, sources said.

About $36,000, illegal drugs, case documents and other evidence were among 
items reported stolen during the theft at the task force office in Florence.

Sources with knowledge of aspects of the investigation say ABI agents are 
not convinced a burglary took place. There were no signs of forced entry to 
the building, and surveillance officers from the Florence Police Department 
were in the immediate area on another detail at the time and reported

seeing nothing suspicious.

The burglary has apparently become a secondary part of the current 

"We've been made aware of incidents being looked into by the ABI," said 
Lauderdale County District Attorney Steve Graham, who heads the task force 
board. "It is surprising to hear of the allegations, and they are of great 
concern to all of us."

The task force is a joint operation involving the district attorney's 
office, sheriff's office and the Florence and University of North Alabama 
police departments. The unit has been operating since April 1999.

Florence Police Chief Rick Singleton said ABI agents have met with the task 
force board as a group.

"I told them unless there is some reason I need to know, I prefer not to 
know (what they're investigating) until it's completed," Singleton said of 
the meeting with ABI officials.

"I hope when the truth comes out, it's not damaging and the allegations are 
unfounded. But if there is substance, they need to be dealt with, and we'll 
let the chips fall where they may."

Task force operations were suspended Feb. 6 for nearly a month. Two agents 
were replaced during reorganization, and former Florence Police Capt. Myron 
Crunk later agreed to take over as the unit's director.

Sources say wrongdoing has not been proved against any current task force 
member. They added that the focus of the investigation is on former 
director David Scogin because of his administrative position.

Scogin was fired from the district attorney's office March 21. He said he 
was asked to resign by Graham because he used his issued vehicle for 
personal business. When he refused, Graham fired him.

Graham has not commented on why Scogin was terminated.

Scogin said he has met with ABI agents. He said they asked him about taking 
personal trips in the issued vehicle, confiscated vehicles that are 
unaccounted for and five disbursement forms.

"I really don't know what they want," Scogin said. "I know I'm catching a 
lot of allegations and stuff is being talked about me because I was the 
director. It's real easy to make accusations, but it's much harder to 
prove. They could indict me for killing JFK, but that doesn't mean I did it.

"They've looked at everything I've done, and I didn't do anything wrong in 
that task force. I operated it to the best of my ability and as the board 
directed me."

He said the board made decisions about how the task force would be run, 
"and now when things are being questioned, they're saying it's David 
Scogin's fault."

Sources could not say specifically how many cases against suspects were 
reported to have been dropped in exchange for money or vehicles. In some 
cases being reviewed, suspects arrested on felonies had their charges 
reduced to misdemeanors, sources say.

Graham said plea bargains are "a necessary evil" of working drug cases and 
are used to gain information on bigger dealers. He said prosecutors have to 
rely on the opinion and knowledge of task force agents when making plea 

"I was aware of cases that were actually made and came to my office for 
prosecution," Graham said. "It appears some cases were settled without ever 
being brought to the district attorney's office and were worked out at the 
task force level without authorization."

Scogin said making deals is part of the process in working drug cases. He 
said if agents arrest someone with 20 pounds of marijuana and that person 
wants to provide information on three people selling 30 pounds, "then that 
person usually goes free."

He said the board approved all deals made with suspects.

Another major part of the investigation is an allegation that disbursement 
forms used to pay informants and make drug buys were falsified, altered and 
forged, sources said.

Scogin said he believes another task force agent forged disbursement forms, 
but the task force as a whole did things right. He said he reported his 
suspicions about one agent to Graham at least a year ago.

"They're looking at me as if I'm responsible for every single thing that 
every agent did, and that was not my role," Scogin said. "If an agent 
filled out a form, I did not question that. I sent paperwork in and paid 
the money. If there are any forged documents, and I believe there are, they 
need to take it up with the individual agent."

Agents, based on unit policy, are required to fill out forms justifying 
expenditures from the informant and drug purchase account. Informants who 
receive money are also required to sign the form acknowledging they 
received money for information.

The board must approve all expenditures of more than $250 made to 
informants, Singleton said. He said that approval has been granted fewer 
than 10 times since the task force was formed.

Most of the money going to informants is in the form of $25 or $50 
payments. The largest board-approved payment to an informant was $2,500, 
which was related to a major operation.

The amount shown on disbursement forms in some cases does match information 
in the case file, sources said. They said some informants say they never 
received money, but there is documentation suggesting they were paid.

The sources added there are also disbursement forms showing money being 
used to make drug buys, but there is no record of the drugs being bought or 
stored in evidence lockers.

It's unclear how much money could be involved in that aspect of the 
investigation. Task force records show, however, that about $57,000 has 
been spent from that account since operations began in 1999.

Scogin, as director, authorized all expenditures. Courthouse sources say a 
search warrant was issued on Scogin's house last week. They said original 
disbursement forms were found there.

"I have an accurate account of all disbursements and can attest to the 
validity of every form I signed," Scogin said. "I just turned in ones 
submitted by other agents."

Graham said task force disbursement policies have been changed "as a result 
of things being discussed."

New disbursement procedures mandate that another agent must witness 
signatures on the forms and the actual payment to an informant.

Sources say investigators are also very interested in vehicles that were 
confiscated during drug cases.

At least a dozen vehicles seized during task force operations started 
remain unaccounted for, sources said. The task force had a rotating 
contract for wrecker service, but attempts to find the vehicles at any of 
the storage areas have been unsuccessful.

Singleton said he's unaware of any of the confiscated vehicles being sold, 
which would require board approval with proceeds being divided equally 
among the four sponsoring agencies. He said some vehicles seized were 
issued to task force agents.

"I've been told the ABI has been looking into those vehicles that were 
towed and never reappeared," Graham said.

"I don't know why they haven't reappeared or where they could be."

Scogin said he told ABI agents that he has not seen the vehicles since they 
were being towed away by a wrecker.

Graham said there are written procedures outlining how expenditures and 
towing are handled and proper procedures for accounting for the vehicles.

Investigators are also investigating claims that donations were made to 
Scogin's campaign for sheriff last year by people who either had cases 
against them or had family members under investigation. In exchange, the 
cases were not prosecuted or dropped, sources said.

They said investigators have been unable to find numerous drugs that were 
reported to have been seized by agents.

Singleton suggested that the ABI agents investigate the burglary because of 
allegations made "from an outside entity." Graham and other board members 
agreed, and Graham contacted ABI officials.

Singleton would not disclose the nature or the allegations or who made them.

Numerous courthouse sources say, however, that Circuit Judge Mike Suttle 
has questioned task force operation for months. He has yet to rule on about 
$40,000 worth of property condemnations requested by the task force.

Suttle declined comment for this story.

A surprise audit was conducted at the task force office last summer in 
response to Suttle's allegations, sources said. At the time, all of the 
money and inventory appeared to be in order.

Graham said the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, which 
administers the grant used to fund the task force, conducts an audit twice 
a year. He said he has letters in his file from ADECA congratulating the 
board on its task force operation.
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MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart