Bal Harbour’s small police department now has a big problem: the federal government is demanding that Bal Harbour Police give back $4 million in forfeited assets.
"It could be more than 4 million dollars, and the taxpayers are gonna have to come up with that,” said community activist Brian Mulheren, who is outraged by the situation.
The Department of Justice sent a letter to the police chief and mayor, warning them that federal criminal prosecution could be the result of the federal investigation that found that Bal Harbour Police misused millions of dollars seized in drug and money laundering investigations. The letter mentions "numerous instances" in which the department broke the rules that govern how agencies are supposed to use money shared in joint operations.
"They're completely disregarding all of the rules, the policies and the laws, if these allegations are true, they're running amok,” said former prosecutor David Macey.
Macey, who used to work with the South Florida Money Laundering Strike Force, says police departments like Bal Harbour’s often join multiagency groups because the payoff is worth it, even if the crime they're fighting is not in their community.
"Very lucrative, they got fancy boats, fancy guns and cars and good stuff like that, but in the end, if they didn't follow the rules there's gonna be some serious sanctions,” he said.
In Bal Harbour's case, detectives were jetting around the country, taking part in far-flung investigations that often had nothing to do with the village. Federal authorities say Bal Harbour detectives conducted transactions involving over $56 million in the last three years.
"We're running a money laundering business and making money,” Mulheren said. “That's not what the police department and that’s not what this whole project is supposed to be about. It's supposed to be eliminating crime and drugs, not making money and squandering money on trips and cars and whatever else."
Bal Harbour Police didn’t have much to say about the issue.
"All I can tell you at this point is the Department of Justice has done their audit, and at this point we’re waiting to get a copy of the audit, which is actually their report, so that we can go through everything, and digest it, and take corrective action,” Capt. Greg Roye said.