Asset forfeiture money restored

The Shenandoah County Sheriff’s Office is again able to receive money from the U.S. Department of Justice’s asset forfeiture program.

The agency Monday rescinded a decision made in mid-December to suspend the program, which has delivered billions of dollars to local law enforcement agencies throughout the nation.

The Shenandoah County Sheriff’s Office has been the biggest beneficiary of the program among local law enforcement agencies since 2004. The agency has received more than $4.6 million, including $3.57 million in fiscal year 2011 alone.

The significance of the asset forfeiture program in the Sheriff’s Office overall finances is considerable in some years. The $3.57 million in 2011 equals about three fourths of the $4.68 million County Administrator Mary Beth Price has recommended for the Sheriff’s Office 2017 budget.

The Clarke County Sheriff’s Office was awarded $266,215 in asset forfeiture payments in 2014, the highest amount among local law enforcement agencies for that year. Page County received $136,225 and Shenandoah County $97,392. Frederick and Warren counties each got $95.

The money is derived from the federal government’s sale of personal property and cash assets that law enforcement officials deem to be linked to criminal activities.

Sheriff Timothy C. Carter hailed the email he received from the Department of Justice on Monday as a “positive” development. Carter has been counting on asset forfeiture money to pay for a significant part of a new Sheriff’s Office headquarters, which is supposed to enter the design phase next year. The Board of Supervisors has yet to commit to the entire project, and the interruption of the asset forfeiture program had complicated deliberations on the facility.

“It didn’t change my resolve nor did it change the fact that it’s really overdue for the county, but it certainly threw a monkey wrench into the revenue stream that we had anticipated,” Carter said of the suspension. “It shouldn’t be an issue now.”

The Justice Department cited two spending bills in Congress that cut the asset forfeiture program by $1.2 billion as the reason for suspending the program in December. The agency held open the possibility of reviving the program at a later date.

M. Kendall Day, the chief of the asset forfeiture money laundering section of the Department of Justice, stated in Monday’s email that the time had come to restore the program.

Day’s email, sent to law enforcement agencies around the nation, said the asset forfeiture payments were being restored, effective immediately.

“It’s worth repeating that we did not make the decision to defer … payments lightly, and it was always our intent to resume payments as soon as it became financially feasible,” Day wrote. “Thus in the months since we had to make that difficult decision, we explored alternative options, while also keeping a close eye on incoming receipts. And now, we are finally at a point where it is no longer necessary to continue the deferral. Therefore, effective immediately, we are resuming payments and agencies will receive the full amount of their share of any approved … payments.”

Carter said he had sought help from Democratic U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine and U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Roanoke, in responding to the suspension.

“From my understanding, there was considerable pushback from law enforcement around the country,” Carter said of the suspension. “It’s not just Shenandoah County at this point.”

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com