Pubdate: Fri, 10 Aug 2007
Source: Post-Tribune (Merrillville, IN)
Copyright: 2007 Post-Tribune
Author: John Byrne, Post-Tribune staff writer


The state police lieutenant looking into federal criticisms about 
finances at the Lake County High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area 
program is challenging federal drug officials' assertions he has 
begun a "criminal investigation" into the agency.

In a letter this week to Lake County HIDTA chairman and acting U.S. 
Attorney David Capp, Scott Burns, deputy director of the Office of 
National Drug Control Policy, said he had "been informed, since our 
meeting, that the Indiana State Police have commenced a criminal 
investigation related to HIDTA funds."

State Police Lt. David Kirkham insisted Friday no state police 
investigation into HIDTA has commenced, criminal or otherwise.

Kirkham said he has begun an "inquiry," at the behest of the HIDTA 
board of directors, to look into ONDCP complaints about alleged 
financial irregularities at the federally funded regional drug and 
gang task force.

"I was asked by the HIDTA board to look into a few things that the 
ONDCP brought up, some concerns they had about how the HIDTA was 
being run," the lieutenant said.

Kirkham said he was chosen to address the federal criticisms because 
he was sitting at the HIDTA board meeting when law enforcement 
officials decided to appoint somebody to respond to the ONDCP complaints.

"They looked around the table and said, 'Do you want to do it?' and I 
said 'sure,'" Kirkham said.

HIDTA fiscal officer Linda James, wife of Post-Tribune Editorial Page 
Editor Rich James, was transferred Thursday from HIDTA to a job with 
the Lake County Sheriff's Department amid mounting criticism from the ONDCP.

Federal officials reportedly are upset Lake County's HIDTA has made 
it a policy to keep interest money raised from federal funds, a 
deviation from federal policy.

Federal officials also took exception to the fact Linda James 
purchased a car HIDTA had been leasing.

Burns said federal funding would be withheld from Lake County HIDTA 
unless a new agency replaces the sheriff's department as the 
fiduciary agent for the program.

Kirkham would not say which federal complaint he was looking into, 
but said he would likely have a report finished on the matter by the 
HIDTA August meeting.

ONDCP spokesman Rafael Lemaitre was not available Friday to respond to Kirkham.
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MAP posted-by: Beth Wehrman