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Check on LETF

Most Ohio residents are likely unfamiliar with Law Enforcement Trust Fund accounts, but they probably are well aware of the police forfeiture raids and other seizures from which some of the cash for those accounts flow.

More than a year ago, Eye on Ohio, part of the nonprofit, nonpartisan Ohio Center for Journalism, began looking into these accounts. Among the incidents that caught their attention was a case in Vinton County. After the county fair was canceled, County Prosecutor Trecia Kimes-Brown wrote $100 checks to every child who completed a 4-H project in 2020. She wrote those checks out of her LETF, in the name of “drug education.” She was also up for re-election at the time. (She lost, anyway.)

According to Eye on Ohio, while property seized from suspected crime scenes can be used to benefit the prosecutor’s office and law enforcement agency that conducted the investigation, there is little official oversight of the accounts. In fact, many are kept outside counties’ treasurys. That is legal, and the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association actually encourages the money be kept out of a county auditor’s control. It comes as no surprise most of the dues paid to the private OPAA are paid out of these funds.

OPAA officials were reported to have been uncooperative with Eye on Ohio’s investigation, claiming they are not subject to the Public Records Act. Meanwhile, when reporters dug into the LETF and Furtherance of Justice accounts of individual counties, they received mixed responses. Some counties were clear and cooperative, others not so much.

Eye on Ohio requested answers to two sets of questions: 1) How much did you spend last year from your Furtherance of Justice and/or Law Enforcement Trust Fund on drug education? If you did spend money, what exact programs did you spend the drug education money on? and 2) How has your LETF fund helped your police force? Your community? Do you participate in the DOJ/Treasury Dept equitable sharing program? Why or why not? If you do, please also send your ESAC form. Are your FOJ and/or LETF accounts inside accounts with the county?

Reasonable questions, right? At the time of publication, according to Eye on Ohio, Washington County had not yet responded with answers. On the other hand, nearby Athens County sent a thorough answer, which wrapped up with “The LETF and FOJ are outside accounts and have been reviewed annually by either the State Auditor or a 3rd party contract firm since at least 2008. Annual reports of both funds are provided annually to the County Auditor and the Board of County Commissioners.”

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost and lawmakers should look into whether guidelines for such outside accounts should be changed, particularly given the ease with which the funds, and the means for obtaining them, could lead to the temptation to abuse the system. As Vinton County Auditor Cindy Waugh pointed out in Eye on Ohio’s report, expenditures may not be illegal, but “Law and common sense are not always the same.”

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