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Posted: June 1, 2013 5:03 p.m.

NCSO helped by forfeiture funds

The Newton County Sheriff’s Office recently opened its western precinct, something that, given the current budget constraints, would not have been possible without the help of criminals.

“All the proceeds for the renovation were funded by criminal activity in this county,” said NCSO Sheriff Ezell Brown at the grand opening. “It’s something positive that came out of crime.”

The precinct is just one thing that civil forfeitures have bought in Newton County. Forfeitures do not happen on a daily basis in the county, but the money that they have brought in has helped the NCSO tremendously.
Georgia’s forfeiture laws have come under scrutiny lately, following an investigation into reports of alleged abuse in some counties across the state.

State forfeiture laws essentially allow law enforcement to seize homes, vehicles, cash and property — but not without a catch. There are principles that law enforcement agencies are urged to adhere to, but there’s a lot of gray area for departments without accountability.

Civil forfeiture laws in Georgia basically say that as long as the government can establish probable cause or a preponderance of evidence that the property was involved in illegal activity, it can be seized.

Much like the Covington Police Department, the NCSO keeps detailed records of every seizure and every cent coming into the NCSO from them.

They also report their use of the funds annually to the Carl Vinson Institute of Government.

The NCSO reported $56,806.71 in its account that deals with forfeited funds at the end of the 2011 fiscal year; at the end of the 2012 fiscal year, that amount was $52,822.14.

Portions of the fund are used for additions and repairs to law enforcement vehicles, training classes, membership dues and printing costs for the NCSO.

Other things paid for out of the account were car repairs ($600), in November 2011; community outreach supplies ($474), in November 2011; a German shepherd K9 officer ($3,000), in January of 2012; marijuana test strips ($380), in February 2012; NCSO coins ($825), in February 2012; kennel yard supplies ($930), in May 2012; and portraits ($443) in June 2012.

In August of 2010, the NCSO seized a vehicle. But since it was used in undercover work, the type of vehicle and the person it was seized from will not be disclosed. Another vehicle seized in June 2012 also is being used in undercover work. A third vehicle was seized that same month from Felix Hilario Merigildo-Oxlaj and Maria Matias Meregildo. The 1998 Ford Windstar van was sold, with proceeds going to the NCSO.

The NCSO also receives forfeiture funds from the Special Investigation Unit (undercover). After all expenses are paid, those funds are split with the CPD, since the SIU is made up of law enforcement members from both CPD and NCSO.

“Funds are generated from SIU, patrol officers and investigators,” Brown said. “Every division plays a role in the confiscation of the property and funds.”

Much like the Covington police, the NCSO does not bother with seizing funds below $300, since it costs roughly that much to file the seizure with the clerk’s office.

“You spend more time and resources going after that instead of developing resources to really try and nail the individual,” said Brown.

“The main places these funds are used are training and equipment,” said Brown. “This helps with things the budget doesn’t cover. Probably 95 percent of our training from the last few years has been supported from funds from some sort of criminal activity.”

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