Harahan Police Chief Tim Walker has turned over control of confiscated drug money to the city after the U.S. Department of Justice found the account was not being properly administered.
The action comes amid a continuing feud between Walker and Mayor Tina Miceli over control of the Police Department’s budget.
The feds sent Walker a letter last week saying the asset forfeiture money — which is used for training and equipment, buying drugs during undercover sting operations and paying informants — has to be in the hands of the city’s Finance Department.
The letter said no more money can be spent from the account and that any disbursed but unspent funds need to be recalled. It also said all spent money needs to be accounted for and that the city needs to demonstrate to the feds that the program’s books are in order by June 15.
Walker said he turned the checkbook and signing authority over to the Finance Department on Wednesday.
He said no funds from the asset forfeiture account have been converted to cash for use in drug buys or for informants and that no money from the account — which contains $88,227, according to the city — has been misspent.
He produced an email from Miceli in September 2016 in which she handed over control to the funds to him, saying he was unsure why she had done so.
Miceli said she did so because she didn’t want her administration signing off on transactions that had not been properly documented.
She said Walker had spent months requesting the city to sign off on transactions immediately, without producing proper documentation, despite her repeated attempts to get him to comply with regulations for use of the fund.
She said she subsequently contacted the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office about proper procedures and, upon receiving those guidelines, made several unsuccessful attempts to regain access to the funds.
Miceli pointed to an email she sent to the chief in September citing that opinion and asking that control of the account be returned to the city. “We have sent numerous emails saying we have got to get this corrected,” she said.
Miceli said she contacted the Justice Department in April because her administration couldn’t reconcile the asset forfeiture account, lacking documentation for three deposits totaling about $14,000.
Walker downplayed the significance of the Justice Department’s letter, saying he has no problem with the order to give the administration control of the money.
He said the money has been spent responsibly. His department purchased a $700 drone in 2016, mistakenly using money from the account, but reimbursed it after being notified of the mistake, he said.
“There is no missing money,” he said of his department’s handling of the account.
Miceli also mentioned the drone incident, saying it illustrates why the city’s Finance Department should be administering the account.
Miceli said it is difficult to believe money has been spent properly when it isn’t accounted for.
Walker called Miceli’s allegation that he wanted the administration to sign off on purchases without proper documentation “completely, totally incorrect.”
That allegation was referenced in an October letter from Miceli to the state Attorney General’s Office. In the letter, Miceli said Walker had asked Linda Hite Lulue, the city’s contract financial administrator, to “miscode capital purchases to the Police Department’s general fund salary line item.”
After Lulue told him this would be improper and that he would need to get a budget amendment from the City Council, the letter said, Walker used asset forfeiture funds for the purchases despite being informed he didn’t have the authority to do so.
Walker said he has always acquitted himself with honesty and integrity during his law enforcement career, and he described the public revelation of the Department of Justice letter as a political stunt ahead of elections coming up in November.
Miceli and Walker have been clashing for two years over the Police Department’s budget. He objected when Miceli began billing the department for contract legal and accounting costs that she said were the responsibility of the department.
Walker also disagrees with Miceli’s contention that any surplus money in the Police Department’s budget at the end of a fiscal year goes back into the city’s general fund, a position endorsed by the city attorney.
He has said Miceli has not been providing him with timely information so that he can know where he stands on his budget and how much he has to spend.
A 4-1 majority of the City Council has backed Walker, passing an ordinance giving him read-only access to the city’s budgeting software.
Miceli has said her efforts to work with Walker are hampered by a lack of cooperation on his part.
Walker has filed two lawsuits against the mayor related to the dispute, one over access to public records and another saying she illegally took money allocated to his department without his knowledge or consent.