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


FLORENCE -- Agents with the Lauderdale County Drug Task Force continue 
making cases even though needed money from the state is being held up until 
an investigation into the unit's operation is completed.

The task force, like others in the state, receives grant money from a 
federal program administered by the Alabama Department of Economic and 
Community Affairs. The money is used to equip and operate task forces but 
cannot be used to pay informants or make drug buys.

The grant for the Lauderdale unit ended April 1, and there's no timetable 
for when a new grant will be available, if at all.

"It's still in the review process," said Tom Goree, who oversees the 
program for ADECA.

He acknowledged that the investigation has a bearing on whether Lauderdale 
will receive a grant this year.

"You don't want to be funding a drug task force that might not be in 
compliance with the rules and regulations of the program, much less the 
law," Goree said.

He said he is following the investigation closely and will wait until the 
conclusion of the case before making a recommendation.

"I will hold judgment until the investigation into the task force is 
resolved," Goree said. "If the investigation moves on to another area 
separate and unrelated to the current task force, that will have nothing to 
do with us. At that point, we might be able to complete our review process."

During the four years of operations, the task force has received annual 
grants of between $160,500 and $168,500. Sponsoring agents are also 
required to provide a 25 percent match to obtain the grant.

Task force operations were suspended Feb. 6 in Lauderdale County. Board 
members said at the time the decision was made because of personality 
clashes among agents, which had festered during the investigation being led 
by Alabama Bureau of Investigation agents.

When operations resumed in early March, two new agents were assigned to the 
unit. Former Florence Police Capt. Myron Crunk was hired as the unit's new 
director. Crunk is also Lauderdale County's coroner.

The unit has made several arrests since resuming.

"We've got to keep fighting drugs, regardless of how the investigation 
turns out," said Lauderdale County Sheriff Ronnie Willis. "We have a drug 
problem in the county, and I want to see a concentrated effort to work the 
problem as hard as we possibly can."

Willis said a task force is the best way to work drug cases. He said his 
and other departments don't have the resources to form a special unit to 
work drugs.

Florence Police Chief Rick Singleton agrees. He said police would have to 
assign at least two officers to work drug cases, if the task force does not 
survive. His department has one officer assigned to the task force.

"We've all got to work drugs, and the task force makes it better on all of 
us," Singleton said. "We need to bring closure to this investigation, deal 
with it appropriately and get back to fighting drugs."
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