North Carolina state officials failed to account for 234 vehicles worth $634,000 seized by a program targeting drivers convicted of felonies for speeding or driving while intoxicated, a new state audit reported.
Auditor Beth Wood found gaps in monitoring the contractors charged with impounding the vehicles, along with resistance from one major contractor to cooperate with the investigation. The missing vehicles should have been auctioned, kept in storage, or returned to the owners. But audit investigators couldn’t find the missing vehicles or the paperwork that might help find them.
The Department of Public Instruction, the state agency that received money from the sale of seized vehicles, didn’t want the responsibility of monitoring the program, saying it was outside the agency’s core mission.
The audit reviewed the DWI/Felony Speeding to Elude Vehicle Seizure Program from July 1, 2011 until June 30, 2016. Though the review covered five years, vehicles were reported missing over only the past three years.
The General Assembly created the program in the 1990s to seize vehicles from motorists convicted of those felonies and prevent them from driving. By law, proceeds from the sale of items seized in criminal cases go to the school district where the case was prosecuted. Local school districts initially and reluctantly monitored the program.
In 1997, DPI took charge of overseeing the contractors that impounded and later auctioned the vehicles. But DPI didn’t want that responsibility, either. Oversight was lax, and DPI officials said it didn’t have the people or money needed to keep tabs on the contractors and make sure they were auctioning the vehicles and sending money to DPI.
Oversight of the program shifted last year to the Department of Administration.
The audit recommended tighter oversight from DOA, including a referral to the Division of Motor Vehicles, which may be able to track any undocumented vehicles.
It also noted that Martin Edwards and Associates, the contractor handling (and losing) the vast majority of the vehicles, had impeded the investigation and resisted subpoenas from the auditor’s office. The auditor said DOA should reconsider using MEA as a contractor.
DPI and DOA agreed with the audit’s findings and recommendations.
Secretary of Administration Machelle Sanders said the requirements contractors must face to impound vehicles for the program are so stringent that not many towing/impoundment businesses qualify to participate in it — implying it would be difficult to replace a crooked or incompetent contractor. She said regulations possibly expanding the pool of available contractors would need the General Assembly’s approval.