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> City mishandling drug money's siezed?
post Oct 14 2010, 09:03 AM
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Police drug money account scrutinized

By Matt Field
Staff Writer
Published: Wednesday, October 13, 2010 5:19 PM CDT
MICHIGAN CITY — For a decade now, the Michigan City Police Department has been keeping some money seized in drug arrests instead of notifying the state or federal government.

The News-Dispatch has obtained a letter from the city’s corporate counsel stating the Michigan City Police Department has seized about $90,000 that it has not attempted to have forfeited.

Common Council President Marc Espar, the letter’s recipient, believes the police department has made an honest mistake, but he is not sure whether any money in the account has been spent.

If so, it could prove problematic.

“If there was money expended out of there, it wasn’t through an appropriation of the (Common) Council, and that’s the only way monies can be expended,” he said.

“It is my understanding that there would have to be some replenishment of those funds,” he said. “I am holding off my judgement, I don’t know whether it’s going to be the city that’s held liable for that or who is.”

The author of the letter, Corporate Counsel John Espar, did not return repeated calls requesting comment. Police Chief Mark Swistek said Monday he has discussed the account with him, but referred all questions right back to the city’s attorney.

Mayor Chuck Oberlie would not discuss the account, referring to Espar as the “spokesperson” on the matter.

Marc Espar, who is related to John, said he will refer this matter to the finance committee of the council.

“If the state wants to keep the seized property, they are required to go through the forfeiture action, but if they don’t intend to keep it, then they’re not required to go through the forfeiture,” he said.

An official with the Indiana State Board of Accounts said police departments usually try to get money forfeited either through the state or federal government.

“That’s what they do, they choose one or the other,” agency supervisor Charles Pride said.

Pride, who also received the letter, said his agency will look into the account during its next annual audit of Michigan City.

The two forfeiture procedures have very different outcomes.

According to John Espar’s letter, police departments can have seizures of at least $2,000 under federal forfeiture laws. In those cases, a lot of that money gets returned to the agency. His letter suggests the $90,000 seized by Michigan City police was seized in lesser amounts.

He intends to have the money forfeited through the state process.

“I intend to seek the requisite authority from the La Porte County Prosecuting Attorney — who alone possesses the power to authorize a forfeiture action under state law — to pursue the forfeiture of those monies.”

John Espar is a deputy La Porte County prosecutor in addition to Michigan City’s corporate counsel.
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