MIAMI (CBSMiami) – There were verbal fireworks Thursday morning at the normally subdued Bal Harbour Village Council meeting as outraged residents demanded answers after the village’s police department was banned from a federal forfeiture program by the Department of Justice and told to turn over more than $4 million in seized drug money.
The Department of Justice said the village’s vice squad didn’t play by the rules and used some of the seized money for first class plane tickets, luxury car rentals and to pay informants across the country.
“I take full responsibility for everything,” Bal Harbour Police Chief Thomas Hunker told the council. “I can tell you right now, we have not done anything wrong.”
Under the program, Hunker said they’ve made more than 200 arrests in 13 different states and seized large amounts of drugs. By kicking them out of the federal program, Hunker said the bad guys win.
“The only thing this does is lets the criminals win. Okay, their money is now going to be laundered freely, their assets are not going to be seized and all the drugs and things that we’ve taken off the streets are not going to be seized,” said Hunker.
Mayor Jean Rosenfield has called for an independent investigation.
“I think that we should review and we should ask questions and we should give answers that are transparent,” said Rosenfield.
But some residents think that measure doesn’t go far enough.
“I would have suspended the Chief and I would have put the village attorney’s malpractice carrier on notice,” said Dina Cellini. “I would have requested and audit and I wouldn’t have thrown good money after bad.”
Actions by the police department came under scrutiny last year after audit, and subsequent probe, turned up a host of problems include missing records, questionable expenses and hundreds of thousands of dollars paid to snitches, according to CBS4 news partner The Miami Herald.
The probe also questioned undercover detectives going across the country to make drug busts that had no connection to Bal Harbour which resulted in few arrests. The department also reportedly retained two police officers, who lived in Southern California and on the state’s west coast, to manage informants across the country. Over a four-year period, the department paid nearly $625,000 to these snitches who allegedly tipped cops off to lucrative busts from New York to California.
Click Here to read more about the accusations against the department.
Former Miami-Dade assistant state attorney David Macey, who specialized in forfeitures, told the paper he’s never heard of an entire law enforcement agency being threatened with penalties and criminal sanctions.
CBS4 news partner The Miami Herald contributed to this report.