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Seized money goes into law enforcement
Friday, August 22, 2014
By BEN R. WILLIAMS - Bulletin Staff Writer
When the Henry County Sheriff’s Office seizes money from a crime scene, where does it go?
According to Henry County Commonwealth’s Attorney Andrew Nester, a current asset forfeiture case serves as a good explanation for how the county deals with seized money.
Nester’s office has been publishing an order of publication in the Classified Advertising section of the Martinsville Bulletin, advertising the forfeiture of $27,791 seized following a June double homicide in the county.
Brothers Alfonso Navarro-Pena, 40, and Noel Navarro-Pena, 33, were found dead on June 27 and 28. Jonathan “Johnny” Rivera-Olvera, 24, and James Travis Moore, 33, have since been arrested in connection with the deaths.
According to previous Bulletin reports, while deputies were searching the home of the Navarro-Pena brothers, they seized $27,791 in cash, 25 pounds of purported marijuana and 2.6 ounces of purported cocaine, among other items.
The county, Nester said, has formally filed to add that $27,791 to its asset forfeiture fund because “we believe it is in substantial connection to the distribution of drugs.”
Because the Navarro-Pena brothers are deceased, Nester said, the county is required to publish the asset forfeiture notice to give family members an opportunity to prove that the money is not, in fact, related to the distribution of drugs.
“If somebody comes in and says, ‘No, this money came from a legitimate source’ ... now they’re going to have to prove that to the court,” Nester said. “There’s a lot of steps and hoops that they have to jump through and a lot of legal proceedings that it is incumbent upon them to go forward with.”
If no one steps forward to claim that the money is legitimate, Nester said, it will be forfeited and divided.
The Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) would receive 10 percent of the total funds, Nester said. Of the remaining amount, the commonwealth’s attorney’s office would receive 25 percent and the sheriff’s office would receive 75 percent.
For Nester’s office and the sheriff’s office, Nester said, “There are very limited things that you can spend that on. It’s got to be a law enforcement interest. Neither the sheriff nor my office can turn that (money) into salary, bonuses for employees or anything like that.”
Examples of what the money can be spent on, he said, include replacement uniforms for sheriff’s deputies or replacement vehicles for the office’s fleet.
“It’s a good deal for taxpayers because we’re able to take that money and put it in our budget,” Nester said. “For instance, we don’t have to use county money if we need to buy a copy machine. If our copy machine gets fried by lightning and the warranty doesn’t cover it, asset forfeiture will.”
However, Nester said, any purchase made with asset forfeiture funds first must be approved by the Henry County Board of Supervisors. Nester said this is because any changes to the budget of a county department must be formally approved by the board.
“It’s great for the county because it saves the taxpayers’ money,” Nester said.