Sheriff wants funds released

The Shenandoah County sheriff is asking the Shenandoah County Circuit Court to declare that funds from an undercover operation, currently controlled by the Sheriff’s Office, U.S. Justice Department and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, should be given solely to the county.

Sheriff Timothy C. Carter, and his attorney Harwell M. Darby, Jr., on Aug. 30 asked the court to make a decision ordering the release of $3.4 million.

The civil filing was assigned to Judge Dennis L. Hupp.

“I personally believe it belongs to the county,” Carter said of the money. “We have provided supporting documentation to support our request.”

But ultimately it is Hupp’s decision.

The complaint includes a letter written March 9 by acting U.S. Attorney Rick A. Mountcastle of the Western District of Virginia stating that the U.S. government had no interest in the funds.

“This letter constitutes a complete disclaimer and statement of no interest by the U.S.  Government, including the Department of Justice and the BATF, as to any of the above funds and proceeds,” Mountcastle wrote.

Calls and emails on Thursday and Friday to Mountcastle and his office seeking comment were not returned.

The Northern Virginia Daily obtained the filing from Shenandoah County under a Freedom of Information Act filing.

This amount, combined with previously released assets, would put the Shenandoah County Sheriff’s Office funds from investigations inside and outside the area at more than $5.7 million, as previously reported in the Northern Virginia Daily.

Carter explained he was approached by the federal government through the U.S. Department of Justice and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to help them follow illegal cigarette sales and their possible funding of terrorism.

The joint undercover operations went on from September 2008 to October 2011 and became known as the Valley Tobacco Initiative, according to the complaint. It closed with a series of arrests on Nov. 11, 2011.

“Since there were still viable defendants and since the basic structure of the investigation was in place, the Shenandoah County Sheriff Office, determined to continue the operation under the name “Mountain View,”  Darby states in a court document.

The undercover investigation continued with the approval of the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Virginia and the Shenandoah County Commonwealth’s Attorney Office, according to the complaint.

The Shenandoah County Sheriff’s Office created a shell company and called it Mountain View,  Carter said.

It is through this company that the funds generated from the new undercover operation were funneled through at least eight different non-interest bearing bank accounts, one account assigned to each individual who purchased untaxed cigarettes from the undercover agent, according to court documents.

The first account was opened in December 2010 and the last deposit in the accounts was made April 2014.

The money in these accounts represents sales proceeds from the operation, not money seized from suspects, the complaint states.

Carter said he wants to use these funds to build a new $6.8 million Sheriff’s Office.