Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Sheriff Might Need Cosigner for Expenses; Commissioners Could Get to Veto Checks

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Sheriff Might Need Cosigner for Expenses; Commissioners Could Get to Veto Checks

Article excerpt

Byline: GORDON JACKSON

KINGSLAND - Camden County commissioners will consider a proposal next week that may make moot a judge's pending ruling on who controls a confiscated drug money account.

Steve Berry wants fellow commissioners to immediately begin enforcing a 1995 policy requiring Sheriff Bill Smith to have a county commissioner cosign every check issued from the account. The proposal, which will be discussed at the commissioners' Aug. 21 meeting, would also require a commission vote on all expenditures from the account, which totaled about $1.6 million last year, he said.

Drug money expenditures "would have never been a debate if we followed this policy," Berry said. "It puts us in a win-win situation. If the judge says no, we're going to insist this policy be implemented."

The policy was discovered after commissioners voted to ask Smith to return control of the account to them after they recently learned some of the money may have been spent for purposes forbidden under federal guidelines. Smith has refused to comply with the request, and commissioners have asked a Superior Court judge to force him to give up control of the account.

It's unclear if commissioners ever cosigned any checks from the account written by the Sheriff's Office, but Berry said he's certain the policy hasn't been followed since he was elected to office seven years ago. He said there are no elected officials currently in office, other than Smith, when the agreement was approved by commissioners.

"It was incumbent for him to follow this policy," Berry said. "The public would have been aware of how this money was spent."

At 1 p.m. Monday, Smith showed off a new boat bought with seized drug assets that will be used in a new marine patrol.

During the news conference, Smith said, "I wish I had never heard of seized assets."

Smith also said he didn't believe anyone in law enforcement believes that "commissioners should be in charge of seized assets."

SHERIFF'S EXPENDITURES

Commission Chairman Preston Rhodes said none of the commissioners was aware of the policy until County Attorney Brent Green investigated how Smith was given control of the seized drug money account.

"We are aware that protocol has not been followed," Rhodes said. "My opinion is the law should have been followed."

Berry described Smith's use of the money as a "private slush fund" that he uses to generate political support and for personal gain.

"We would not have approved trips to Las Vegas, the purchase of hundreds of automobiles we don't need, donations to his cronies, money to build a house on Cumberland Island," he said. "The sheriff would not have been able to spend the money as he pleased."

Money from the account was also used to pay jail inmates, including a convicted methamphetamine manufacturer, for labor, records show. …

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