Pubdate: Mon, 8 Feb 2010
Source: Asheville Citizen-Times (NC)
Copyright: 2010 Asheville Citizen-Times
Author: Jon Ostendorff
Cited: Sheriff Jimmy Ashe
Bookmark: (Corruption - United States)
Bookmark: (Asset Forfeiture)


Jackson Sheriff Bucks NC Recommendation on Narcotics Seizures

Crime has its own way of paying in Jackson County.

It has paid for batting helmets for a girls softball team. It has 
paid for a machine that helps fill water bottles for high school 
football players. And it has paid to send kids to an Atlanta Braves game.

Tapping into money from drug seizures, Sheriff Jimmy Ashe has 
directed $10,588 since 2007 to sports programs, trophies, booster 
clubs and a high school chorus.

The sheriff often spent the money with no oversight. In one case he 
directed $3,000 to youth baseball teams - including one on which his 
son played.

The practice differs from that of other Western North Carolina 
sheriffs, who have rolled narcotic fund money into fighting crime and 
have used no public money on youth sports.

Ashe, a Democrat in his second term, said he wanted to keep children 
from using drugs by giving them something constructive to do.

"I am really proud that we are able to do that," he said. "I can't 
think of a better way to utilize money that is from drug dealers."

The Citizen-Times obtained records detailing the expenditures through 
a public records request.

The county last year collected $28,573 from taxes on illegal drugs, 
according to the state. The money comes from the N.C. Department of 
Revenue, which assess a tax on drugs much in the same way it taxes legal goods.

Sheriffs and police get 75 percent of what is collected from drug 
dealers in the cases they investigate.

The N.C. Department of Justice in a memo to sheriffs said the drug 
tax money is intended to help law enforcement "deter and investigate 
crimes, especially drug offenses."

State audits found no wrongdoing in Jackson County, although auditors 
don't typically examine line-item expenditures for each department.

Ashe and Jackson County Finance Officer Darlene Fox said they've had 
no complaints from the state. North Carolina does not audit the 
spending of drug tax money.

Fox's only concern was the sheriff using $20,000 in drug tax money in 
2008 on new carpet in his building to replace carpet damaged by 
leaking water pipes.

Ashe didn't file a purchase order ahead of time, she said. The 
sheriff did get at least two informal bids, which is the policy for 
an expense under $90,000.

Fox said the county's auditor checked the expense for the carpet and 
said it was allowable because it would serve the department.

$3,000 for the Wildcats

Of the $10,558 spent primarily on youth sports and related 
activities, $3,000 in two payments in 2009 and 2008 went to a league 
of three 9-12-year-old baseball teams. Ashe managed one of them, and 
his son played on it.

Ashe, who is one of the highest-paid sheriffs in the region with an 
annual salary of $105,571, said his management role with the 
10-and-under Carolina Wildcats was limited to filling water bottles 
and making sure players got to the game on time.

The donation might look suspicious to some, Ashe said, but the money 
also went to the team's 9-and-under roster, and it helped many other children.

In another case, $362.88 went to reimburse Ashe to cover the cost of 
batting helmets he bought for a girls fast-pitch softball team. Ashe 
said he found a deal on the helmets at Play it Again Sports.

Ashe said he has always donated state drug money to youth sports, a 
practice he started after taking office in 2002. Although his 
department has purchased equipment with the money, he said he would 
rather spend on the community and not "gadgets."

He said he's also donated his own money and time.

And, Ashe said, the department has a history of making similar 
donations before he became sheriff. He said the law enforcement 
purpose is to deter crime.

Money from the narcotic fund also went to buy yearbook advertisements 
and football program advertisements, which is not an uncommon expense 
among other Sheriff's Office and county governments.

But the way the narcotic fund money was spent is uncommon.

Following the Dollars

The money, according to county line-item expense records, sometimes 
came from supplies and materials and equipment outlay accounts.

The county would then reimburse the expenses with money from the 
narcotics fund.

Capt. Steve Lillard, who is over criminal investigations and the 
narcotics fund, signs the checks. Ashe said he directed the spending 
on youth sports.

People in the community approached him with needs. Sometimes, but not 
always, they would give him letters stating the needs, he said.

With a $2,000 check to the Carolina Wildcats in 2009, the Sheriff's 
Office filed a receipt saying the money would "promote a drug free 
community by allowing youth to participate in organized baseball."

Sometimes there were purchase orders and invoices showing how the 
money was spent. Other times, there are only checks going to youth 
sports teams or conferences.

One invoice in August 2008 shows the Sheriff's Office spent $1,435.79 
at Harris Sporting Goods in Seneca, S.C., on a "power team drinker."

The device, which allows players to fill multiple water bottles 
simultaneously, was donated by the sheriff to the high school.

Jimmy Cleaveland, athletic director at Smoky Mountain, said the 
machine has improved safety on the field.

"It's for our kids in really hot weather," he said. "Because of where 
our practices field are it's something that we can get access to very 
quickly for them to hydrate."

And, he said, the use of the drug tax money to help youth sports 
seems like a good idea, especially with cutbacks in state funding.

Others involved in youth sports teams and conferences that received 
money from the Sheriff's Office agreed.

Robyn Crawford, who has been involved with Smoky Mountain Youth 
Football for 14 years, said she's glad the money is going to youth 
sports. The league serves about 130 kids.

Her three sons have played youth sports.

"This is not taxpayer money," she said. "This is from drug dealers. 
This is money that is being retrieved and actually helping our youth."

Government Spending Controls

Regardless of the benefits, the Jackson County Sheriff's Office 
spending on sports teams is unusual. But sheriffs and other elected 
leaders do tend to spend at least a little helping the community.

Jackson County Commissioners in the last two years gave $28,173 to 
charity, money that included funding for the county little league and 
traveling baseball team Blue Ridge Rangers.

The Sheriff's Office in neighboring Haywood County during the same 
time period spent nothing on youth sports.

It did spend $80 on an advertisement for Pisgah High School's 
football program that said "Good Luck Bears" and $300 on a banner 
sponsorship for the Bethel Youth Organization.

The expenses were approved by the finance office and the Board of 
Commissioners, Finance Director Julie Davis said.

In Haywood County, as in most other counties, the sheriff makes 
recommendations on how to spend the drug tax money and commissioners 
vote on them.

In Buncombe County, the Sheriff's Office also spends nothing on youth 
sports. It does sponsor an employee kickball team with money donated 
to the department from the community.

Sheriff Van Duncan has donated to teams in his home community of 
Erwin, said Major Scott Bissinger, who handles finances for the 
department. The money came from his personal finances, not county 
coffers or departmental donations.

"County tax dollars are to be used for public purposes only," said 
Diane Price, Buncombe County's budget manager. "Sponsoring an 
individual youth sports team would not fall into the public purpose category."

Price said the Sheriff's Office gets private donations that Duncan 
can use for any purpose he deems appropriate.

The Rev. Billy Graham, for example, gives the department a gift of 
$24,000 a year - some of which has been used for an at-risk youth program.

State Memo

Drug tax money in Buncombe mostly goes to the Buncombe County 
Anti-Crime Task Force, made up of the officers from the Sheriff's 
Office, SBI and local police. The task force board decides how to 
spend the money. Asset forfeitures also go to the task force.

County finance officers in Macon and Cherokee counties also said no 
money is spent on youth sports.

Bill Block, who controls financing in Cherokee County, said state law 
mandates that the drug tax money go into the general fund. "The 
sheriff can designate how he would like to spend the money, and the 
use of the funds has to be a budgeted expense so the commissioners 
have to approve the use of that money," he said.

In Macon County, the process is generally the same. Finance Officer 
Evelyn Southard said the money "has to be used for law enforcement."

The N.C. Department of Justice in 2008 sent a letter to sheriffs 
outlining the allowed uses of state and federal drug forfeiture money.

Special Deputy Attorney General W. Dale Talbert in the memo said the 
legislature intended the drug tax money to "enhance the ability of 
law enforcement agencies to deter and investigate crimes, especially 
drug offenses."

Spending Drug Abuse Resistance Education funds on T-shirts or a drug 
education event at a school would be acceptable, for example.

The N.C. Department of Revenue, which collects and distributes state 
drug taxes, doesn't require audits of how the money is spent, agency 
spokesman Thomas Beam said.

Sheriffs also can spend some of the money they get from federal drug 
seizure cases in the community, but even that spending is limited.

The U.S. Department of Justice allows up to 15 percent of forfeited 
drug money to be spent on community programs, including drug abuse 
treatment, crime prevention, housing, job skills education "or other 
nonprofit community-based programs or activities that are formally 
approved by the chief law enforcement officer."

Support From Parents

Parents in Jackson County said Ashe's decision on how to spend the 
money has made a difference.

"I think that Jimmy Ashe is great for doing that," said Susie 
Fortner, a single mother of three. "If it wasn't for him, I don't 
know if we would have gone this far in sports."

She also said the sheriff donates his time.

"Jimmy gets in the batting cages with those kids," she said.

Keith Nations worked with Ashe on the Wildcats baseball team. He said 
the sheriff personally sponsored a child who couldn't afford to play.

"I think it is good giving back to the community," he said.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Richard Lake