Overspending, poor oversight vexed Atlanta trafficking program

The Atlanta police program to rescue Korean prostitutes from traffickers raised concerns at the U.S. Department of Justice in more ways than one.

Not only were auditors unable to verify the number of victims police had reported, the task force also had begun to run out of its $600,000 in grant money by January 2007, more than a year before the three-year program was to end.

Federal authorities were surprised that police could spend so much money so quickly.

“Is it really true that the investigators make more than $100,000 per year??” a federal administrator asked in a March 2007 email.

It was, because of overtime, a police budget manager replied. Investigators made more than the sergeant supervising the unit.

The feds had other concerns. Atlanta Police Department reported it spent more than $92,000 in salaries and benefits for a victim services consultant.

“Do you have any idea at all what work this person has done (we don’t)?” that email asked.

Police blamed the spending problems on a budgeting snafu.

“The short answer is the original budget grossly underestimated personnel costs,” a June 2007 APD memo said.

Still, there was enough money to stock the unit’s supply closet.

APD purchased three desktop computers at $2,000 each, three laptop computers at $3,000 each, a $900 digital camera and a $900 camcorder, among other things, according to an internal inventory audit.

Grant money also filled three spaces in APD’s parking lot. In 2006, the human trafficking unit bought two new Ford Explorers — one in gold and another in silver — and a red, unmarked Crown Victoria with tinted windows. They were designated for undercover work.

Atlanta police realized the program was off track when a new commander took over in 2006, according to a recent written statement by APD to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. It “lacked adequate supervisory structure and appropriate internal oversight,” the statement said.

The task force disbanded in 2007, but police continue to investigate local pimps. They say they are still committed to the fight.

“Human trafficking within the city borders is intolerable, and the Department will continue to work with our federal law enforcement partners to pursue and prosecute these acts,” the statement said.

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