Fake News 1: Budget and Office Process

FICTION:  DA Stedman improperly obtained access to a non-taxpayer drug forfeiture funded vehicle by avoiding the normal county procurement process of going through the Purchasing Department.

FACTS:  The above is completely and demonstrably false.  The Lancaster County Controller has stated that no procurement using forfeiture funds since the inception of the DTF nearly three decades ago has ever gone through the Purchasing Department. (Memo attached)

On March 13, 2019, Controller Brian Hurter in a public statement noted that based on the law: “the normal procurement process has never been followed for the Drug Task Force (DTF)” and that for as far back as his records exist there have been numerous vehicles purchased using DTF funds and “none of these vehicles have been handled through the procurement process.”

In addition, the Controller noted that none of the countless forfeiture funded contracts, purchases, vehicles, or any other leases for anything, many far in excess in value of this lease, and over decades, have ever gone through Purchasing let alone been questioned by any BOC.  

The Controller noted that what took place here is not only the well-established past practice in Lancaster but common and accepted practice in the state.

The Controller’s Office also specifically approved this lease and all expenses related to it with a signed a Certificate to Lease over three years ago.

The Certificate to Lease states in plain language that the Controller certifies that he can authorize this lease for the County and the DA is authorized to execute the lease.

Quite simply, the lease– using drug dealer money rather than taxpayer dollars – was done lawfully, properly, entirely consistent with long-standing past practice, as well as with the specific authorization of the County Controller.  The only thing that would have been unusual was if it had been taken it to Purchasing.  

No one from the BOC reached out to DA Stedman before making their demonstrably false claims to the media.  Further, both the BOC and LNP have failed to be transparent and correct their claims even though they have had Controller Hurter’s memo, and the above facts, since March 13, 2019.

FICTION: “Concerns” over the propriety of DA Stedman’s use of drug forfeiture funds for a vehicle- and that DA Stedman has not been transparent.

FACTS:  The law regarding the use of assets forfeited from drug dealers and criminals is clear. It allows exactly what was done: use drug dealer assets to fight crime, exactly as numerous other DAs and countless law enforcement officials have done across the state and nation.

The DA does not have unrestricted use of forfeiture funds.  In fact, the use of forfeiture funds is regulated by law, subject to strict oversight by independent agencies, and is audited by the County Controller and the Attorney General every single year.

The Controller and Attorney General have found DA Stedman’s use of forfeiture funds to be in complete compliance with the law every single year with every single expense.

Many other DAs in Pennsylvania and the nation have access to a work vehicle from drug forfeitures rather than taxpayer money.

The Pennsylvania DA’s Association declared this a proper use of forfeiture funds.

Many DAs and prosecutors at federal, state, and county levels, as well as members of law enforcement have taxpayer-funded work vehicles.  Every prosecutor in the Philadelphia DA’s Office apparently has a taxpayer-funded vehicle.

DA Stedman does not have access to a taxpayer funded vehicle nor exclusive use.

There is nothing illegal or improper about using a non-taxpayer funded car to fight crime.   Other prosecutors across the state use taxpayer funds to do the same.

The cost of this lease is less than ½ of 1% of the DTF budget.

LNP, all media, and the BOC, have had standing invitations to review all forfeiture records.    Two television stations did recently review all the records and found exactly what the audits have shown: nothing improper.   LNP and the BOC have declined the offer of extraordinary transparency.  Viewing the actual records would not fit a narrative of impropriety.

In fact, the records also show DA Stedman has spent over $500,000 in forfeiture funds for community outreach, prevention, and education, in the last five (5) years.

FICTION: DA Stedman is unlawfully trying to hide information.

FACTS:  A DA simply does not have unrestricted use of forfeiture funds with no accountability or transparency.  The simple truth is that all the DA’s forfeiture expenses are audited every single year by the Lancaster County Controller’s Office and the Attorney General to ensure compliance with the law and they have found every single forfeiture expense by this office to have been in compliance every single year.

Once again: all forfeiture funds are annually audited by the Lancaster County Controller and Attorney General and they have found this office to have been in compliance for every single revenue and every single expense every single year.

The state legislature set up specific oversight procedures for forfeiture funds with two independent agencies and all of the office’s expenses are fully disclosed, analyzed, and nothing is hidden. In other words, the DA is completely transparent with the agencies the legislature has designated to review the funds.

DA Stedman provided LNO with the last 18 years of detailed forfeiture fund records prepared by the Controller which the Office of the Attorney General of PA has instructed coud be made public.  The records include exact annual balances, totals, incomes and sources, as well as specific expensese.  The records also reveal the Controller found compliance in each audit.  The only records not disclosed conform with the guidelines of the Attorney General and the law.

On March 7, 2019, LNP agreed in writing to accept only 2 years of exactly the same records described above for an indentical RTK request in York County.

Further, State Law 42 Pa.C.S.A. §5803 not only gives exclusive control of the use of funds/proceeds to the DA but it also specifies that certain information is not subject to disclosure pursuant to the Forfeiture Act, 42 Pa.C.S. § 5803(j): Every county in this Commonwealth shall provide, through the controller, board of auditors or other appropriate auditor and the district attorney, an annual audit of all forfeited property and proceeds obtained under this chapter. The audit shall not be made public but shall be submitted to the Office of Attorney General. … Each audit shall include: Date property was seized, the type of property seized, where property was seized, the approximate value, the alleged criminal behavior with which the property is associated, the disposition or use of property forfeited, whether the forfeiture was related to a criminal case and the outcome of the criminal case, date of forfeiture decision. (42 Pa.C.S. § 5803(j)(1)-(8))

The office position and appeal regarding Right To Know (RTK) requests for complete forfeiture records is identical to that of numerous other DA’s Offices in the state, as well as supported by the PDAA.   Further, this office has only refused to disclose those limited items that the legislature has specifically prohibited from public disclosure.  We are simply following the law.

The position of the DA if far from unique, in fact, in the Cambria County case cited by the BOC, the Cambria County BOC and Solicitor opposed the RTK request on behalf of the DA and authorized the hiring of a special counsel with a budget of up to $10,000 to oppose the very same type of appeal the Lancaster BOC has petitioned to intervene on behalf of LNP.

This office has provided all other requested information and has invited the BOC and all media to inspect all records without limitation other than the condition that the above legally restricted information is not made public as well as anything which would compromise a case of risk law enforcement/public safety. This offer will provide more than they will receive even if the court rules in their favor and they are provided redacted versions.

It should also be noted that the basis for the BOC’s Petition to Intervene in this appeal is unlawful as well as misleading.  The crux of the BOC’s argument for their need to see all the forfeiture accounts (the same records they can come see anytime) is for budgeting purposes.

However, the law specifically prohibits what they suggest.  More particularly, Section 5803(g) states: the entity having budgetary control shall not anticipate future forfeitures or proceeds from future forfeitures in adoption and approval of the budget.

Even if their position was not unlawful, the BOC already has all the information they require regarding forfeiture funds.  They are provided annual reports from the Controller (the most recent was sent to Chairman Parsons on September 28, 2019) which include annual balances, income, expenses, forfeiture totals, as well as many more specifics.  In addition, Budget Services completed studies in 2013 and December of 2018 of the Drug Task Force which go into such detail that every expense, down to how much they pay for copy paper and batteries, is listed and has been provided to the BOC.

As a result, it is far from transparent for the BOC to claim that they need more information regarding the DTF when: 1- they cannot consider it for budgeting under law; 2-they already have all the information they need from multiple sources; and 3- they can come see each and every record whenever they want.

What makes this even worse is the fact that there was no effort by the BOC to reach out to the DA, or apparently the Controller, to clarify any concerns.  Had anyone done so, the DA and/or the Controller would have immediately resolved the matter.  Instead, the BOC chose to issue a false claim to LNP.   The fact that the BOC have partnered with LNP in clearly coordinated unfair attacks certainly raises suspicion as to whether the BOC is actually interested in the truth, transparency, or good government devoted to solving problems rather than creating them.

It should be noted that the law in question was only passed in 2017 so there are no controlling appellate decisions in the state to clearly guide any of the parties.  Thus, and until such time, DA Stedman has merely taken the position consistent with other DA’s Offices in PA and the PDAA.

If the Court states that the forfeiture records should be released this office will comply.  This is a legal dispute which should be solved in the courtroom in accordance with the law not by incredibly misleading “editorials’ written by one of the parties in the litigation.

FICTION: LNP has implied that this agreement was recently enacted to hide something presumably improper.

FACTS:  This was nothing new.  This identical policy agreement has been in place for years and confidentiality policies and agreements are critical and standard in law enforcement.

This was drafted years ago by two senior staff members based on other law enforcement agency agreements and approved by external counsel. It is identical to what has been in place since then.  For LNP to suggest otherwise is just another falsehood.

Security and privacy of sensitive information is absolutely crucial to law enforcement so our duties can be performed with integrity and without jeopardizing the safety of ourselves and others.

People who become the subject of or involved in law-enforcement investigations have a right to their reputations and we absolutely believe in the presumption of innocence.

We simply cannot have employees talking about cases and information they learn here, especially pending cases and ones in which no charges are filed.

No staff member has ever raised a question and there has never been an issue of enforcement.