Troup County Sheriff Donny Turner didn’t release specifics on purchases he’s made with seized drug money after a former employee says the lame-duck sheriff is draining the fund.
LaGrange News requested information on the drug fund purchases through an open records request after retired Chief Deputy Frank Kirby said in a letter to the newspaper he feared the sheriff was spending all the money and leaving the next sheriff in a financial predicament.
County attorney Mark DeGennaro said the sheriff isn’t required to create any documents through the Open Records Act, and that specifics on purchases may be exempt from the act because they might “compromise security if known to the general public.” He also warned that the cost of finding and copying the records could be upwards of $500.
Turner did release the following fiscal year 2013 expenditures, through the county attorney’s office:
• Buy Money (informants): $1,5000
• Travel and training: $3,325
• Communications: $7,471.21
• Weapons and protective gear: $4,455
• Electronic surveillance equipment: $310
• Accountant fee: $2,485
• Office supplies: $15,034.78
• Program supplies: $4,048
• Uniforms: $6,963.47
• Vehicle equipment: $3,540
• Vehicles: $464,395
• Equitable sharing to other agencies: $46,023.08
The sheriff’s confiscated drug fund comes from drug seizures made primarily on interstate freeways. If the county responds to an incident or makes a bust of its own, it receives a cut of the value of the drugs seized and a cut of any cash that may also be seized. The money can only be used for certain things, according to federal rules, and may not be used for personnel.
Hogansville, West Point and LaGrange police also have their own drug funds.
Turner contended during the campaign that he used his drug fund to buy equipment and other supplies for his department, so that he wouldn’t have to cut back as all county departments were being forced to cut. However, the last four years of county budget numbers show that Turner’s appropriation from the county has gone up. In 2010, the department received $4.8 million of county dollars. The sheriff’s office is budgeted to receive $5.3 million this fiscal year.
Troup County Commission Chairman Ricky Wolfe and County Manager Tod Tentler said the increase is likely due to increased costs in running the jail.
“It’s expensive to do what we do,” said Wolfe, who said it would be unethical to comment further on the budget of one of the county’s constitutional officers.
Tentler said the county’s “WeCare” clinic, which has a nurse at the jail, has helped to lower some jail costs, but the jail still is expensive. The county is responsible for all inmates’ medical care while they are in custody.
Salaries of Troup County deputies still are lower than those of other agencies, including LaGrange police, even though the county’s appropriation goes up.
“That’s something we need to take care of,” Tentler said. “No county employee has had a salary increase of any substantial amount in five years. As the economy goes, so goes our revenue. (The employees) are very deserving.”
Turner did release his “Equitable Sharing Agreement and Certification” report for the last fiscal year ending June 30, which is a report required by the U.S. Justice Department all agencies must provide in exchange for drug seizure money.
He spent $1.1 million in drug money last year, according to the report.
The Daily News also obtained equitable sharing reports from LaGrange police and the Coweta County Sheriff’s office.
LaGrange police spent $13,351.90 in fiscal year 2011. Coweta County spent $587,268.50 in U.S. Justice and Treasury funds, two combined drug seizure funds, in 2011.
Coweta County Sheriff Mike Yeager said it’s unfair to try and compare the drug funds agency to agency.
“We might have a year go by where we don’t get any drug money at all,” he said.
He said it’s also not uncommon for the sheriff’s office to help out its local state patrol post with a purchase using the drug fund, which Turner is suspected of doing, even though the state patrol would get its own share of drug money.
Yeager said if he has helped the Newnan state patrol post with radio equipment, for example, he would specify that the equipment be assigned to the post, not a trooper who could wind up being reassigned to South Georgia and possibly take the equipment with him.
“The way I figure, we’re all in this together,” Yeager said.
The Coweta sheriff said he’s never heard of an outgoing sheriff spending all of the drug money, even though he legally could.
“I don’t know why you’d want to do that and open yourself up to an audit,” he said.
All three candidates running to replace Turner have said they would do an audit of the department immediately upon taking office.
Turner was defeated by James Wood in a Republican primary runoff election last August. His term as sheriff expires at the end of December.