- Associated Press - Friday, January 9, 2015

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - New York State Police failed to properly track millions of dollars in assets seized in criminal investigations and the shares that could have been turned over to New York, according to auditors.

Troopers were tracking more than 5,000 assets valued at more than $2 billion and listed as still pending in their database in late 2013, state auditors said in a report released Friday.

Auditors examined a sample of 107 assets and found that more than half the cases were actually closed by courts or administrative dispositions and involved about $993 million in assets, the report said. State police got $12 million - or about 1.25 percent - as their share.

In joint investigations, federal authorities often take custody of assets, which mostly consists of money, plus some vehicles and property. Auditors said state police often learned of forfeitures from their bank statements showing money received from the federal government.

The report said that without proper tracking and accounting, the Division of State Police can’t readily or accurately determine the number and value of seized assets in its own and other police agencies’ custody, the amounts due through court dispositions and the amounts actually received.

“As a result, there is limited assurance that the division receives its correct share of proceeds from forfeited assets,” it said.

When cases involve a federal agency, auditors said, the federal government takes 20 percent of the total after case-related expenses then distributes the rest among any other federal, state and local agencies involved, which have to file claims to document their efforts.

“Although federal officials sent e-mail reports of forfeitures to the division in the past, they no longer did so at the time of our audit,” the report said. State police need “a more proactive and efficient system” to check on assets and ensure they get their requested share.

Mark Johnson, spokesman for the state comptroller’s office and its auditors, said one case involved an $881 million currency seizure, with no record of a specific amount requested by the state police, which did receive $11 million. In 13 cases involving $16.5 million in seizures, the audit found troopers requested $6.3 million and got $4.9 million.

State police spokeswoman Darcy Wells said Friday it would be “premature” to comment before the agency responds to the comptroller, governor’s office and legislative leaders as required.

In a response to the audit draft in October, state police said they would start regularly updating the database after court rulings and would also request all federal calculations for New York shares of seizures but they also noted that it was unlikely they would get all the information. They promised to review old cases as time and limited staff allowed.

Assistant Deputy Superintendent Terence O’Mara wrote that starting this year, state and local police agencies have 45 days after a forfeiture to request their share, rather than 60 days after the seizure, under the U.S. Justice Department’s program. O’Mara said this change should enable police to fully document their efforts.

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