Tally grows of questionable purchases using state funds

The Fulton District Attorney’s Office under-counted how much state forfeiture money it spent on galas, dinners, back rent and other bills by some $19,000, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution found.

These additional expenditures, made in 2011, included $10,000 for past-due rent on a community prosecution office; $1,500 for a Buckhead charity gala; and $1,000 for a deposit on the annual office gala at Park Tavern in Atlanta’s Piedmont Park.

More than $5,100 went to Bennie’s Red Barn, a Saint Simon’s Island restaurant, for a dinner with staffers and their families. The bill included 33 children’s meals at $270 and $1,600 worth of rib eye steaks.

The new disclosure adds to the tens of thousands of dollars worth of questionable state forfeiture fund expenditures uncovered in a June AJC investigation. The story led to an ongoing inquiry by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

In addition, Gov. Nathan Deal called for reforms and state House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, appointed a group to consider possible proposals for next spring’s legislative session. Fulton Commissioner Robb Pitts pushed a successful resolution through the commission that allows it to review the DA’s planned state forfeiture expenditures.

State forfeiture funds, confiscated for suspected violations of state law, are separate from federal forfeiture money, which is confiscated for violations of federal law. Rules on spending the federal money are stricter, and mixing state and federal forfeiture funds violates U.S. Department of Justice rules.

The 2011 purchases went undisclosed because they were made with $24,500 in state forfeiture funds mistakenly deposited into an account that held federal money, said Marla Robinson, chief of staff for Fulton DA Paul Howard.

As a result, they were excluded from the DA’s response to an AJC public records request for state forfeiture spending records, Robinson said.

“Failure to do so was simply an oversight,” Robinson said in an email.

The AJC uncovered the additional state forfeiture expenditures while reviewing a county audit of the DA’s 2011 spending.

That audit concluded that the DA’s spending on children’s meals, a fundraiser for senior citizen meals and the annual office party were barred by Georgia law.

Howard disagreed with auditors’ interpretation of the law and said his office would continue its spending.

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