- The Washington Times - Monday, January 8, 2007

About $616 million seized by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration during investigations is “at risk” because the agency has failed to “consistently implement and document controls” over the cash, according to a government audit.

The Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General, in a 76-page report, said the accounting failures discovered by its auditors “can lead to discrepancies in the amount of cash seized and counted, accusations of theft and misappropriation of seized cash.”

“The DEA has established internal control policies for handling and safeguarding seized cash,” said Inspector General Glenn A. Fine. “However, our audit found that the DEA failed to consistently follow or document compliance with these policies.”

According to the report released Friday, auditors found that from Oct. 1, 2003, through Nov. 3, 2005, the DEA made 16,007 cash seizures totaling almost $616 million. The money eventually was transferred to the U.S. Marshals Service for safekeeping until it was either forfeited by or returned to the owners.

But, the auditors said, their inquiry often found “no documentation indicating that a witnessing agent or task force officer was present at critical stages of the cash-handling process” as required by DEA policy.

The auditors, according to the report, also found many instances in which agents and task force officers did not count the seized cash; did not provide a receipt to the subject from whom the cash was taken; did not complete documents transferring custody of the cash to an evidence custodian; and did not record the receipt, transfer or disposal of the cash in a temporary or permanent control ledger.

Mr. Fine said that during a review of the documentation from 33 internal DEA investigations from October 2003 through July 2005 involving accusations that agents had either lost or stolen defendants’ property, auditors found that in 11 instances the agents did not properly handle, process or dispose of the evidence.

Some of the cases involved multiple violations of DEA policies, he said.

In proposing seven recommendations, Mr. Fine said the DEA needs to better define when seized cash should be counted by the seizing agent, define a time frame for seized cash to be taken to the bank, and speed the transfer of seized cash to the Marshals Service by mandating the use of wire transfers.

In addition, he said, the audit found that the DEA did not follow, or did not document that it followed, many critical internal control policies.

DEA officials, in a written response, agreed to six of the recommendations, but said a proposal that the agency clarify its policy on counting cash and implement best practices for timely cash transfers to banks already had been implemented — a position rejected by Mr. Fine’s office.

“If the DEA was in compliance with this recommendation, it should have identified the deficiencies we identified and made recommendations to correct the deficiencies,” he said.

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