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Gwinnett uses taxpayer funds to cover sheriff’s $70K muscle car

Gwinnett County has used taxpayer money to cover the nearly $70,000 in federal funds that Sheriff Butch Conway spent on the high-powered muscle car he drives to and from work.

It’s a move that one local watchdog characterized as “double abuse.”

“It was already an abuse of taxpayer dollars,” William Perry, the executive director of Georgia Ethics Watchdogs, said. “And now you’re gonna go and make it even worse by using actual Gwinnett County taxpayer money.”

Conway purchased his new Dodge Charger Hellcat — an all black, 707-horsepower vehicle that some have called the fastest sedan ever built — in April. He used $69,258 in funds previously approved by the Department of Justice’s Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section, which distributes assets seized during enforcement efforts to state and local agencies.

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But after an investigative report by Atlanta’s WAGA-TV, federal officials sent a letter to Conway characterizing his purchase as “extravagant” and questioning if it was being used for its stated purpose. The feds asked Conway to replace the funds he used from his federal account. 

Gwinnett County Sheriff Butch Conway speaks during a 2015 press conference. CURTIS COMPTON / CCOMPTON@AJC.COM (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Gwinnett County spokesman Joe Sorenson confirmed Friday that that process was completed before the July 31 deadline. He said the county had transferred the necessary money from its “vehicle replacement fund” — which is largely funded by tax revenue — to the sheriff’s office.

The sheriff’s office confirmed the money was then transferred into the account where its federal funds are kept.

“It’s disappointing that [Conway] doesn’t step up and pay for the car himself,” Perry said.

Conway, who has been sheriff since 1996, has grown familiar with controversy in recent years. He sparked backlash in 2015 when he sent The Atlanta Journal-Constitution an unsolicited letter declaring that “All Lives Matter.” He’s also a staunch supporter of the federal 287(g) immigration program, which has grown even more controversial since the election of President Donald Trump. 

Conway has defended his purchase and use of the Hellcat. His application for the vehicle touted its potential use in Gwinnett’s Beat the Heat program, a nonprofit that uses drag races in controlled environments to “educate drivers about the dangers of distracted driving and illegal street racing.”

The feds, though, took issue with part of the request that stated Conway would also use the car for undercover and covert operations.

The sheriff’s office has defended the claim. In a statement released last month it said that, in addition to driving the car to and from work, Conway uses it “when he participates in field operations, covert and otherwise, with our deputies.”

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