Auditor Calls for Improvements at Worcester and Bristol County DA Offices
BOSTON, MA — State Auditor Suzanne Bump today released audits of the Worcester County District Attorney’s Office (WCDA) and the Bristol County District Attorney’s Office (BCDA) with recommendations for tightened procedures and transparency in how each agency tracks and spends confiscated and forfeited funds.
Under state law, after a defendant is found guilty and seized property related to the case is forfeited to the Commonwealth by court order, district attorneys’ offices are allowed to split the funds with local police departments and use the money to supplement their own operations or for other law enforcement purposes.
Today’s reports detail inadequacies in the records intended to demonstrate that the funds are being used properly. Specifically, both audits contain findings related to the awarding of grants and donations to non-profits and community organizations. While these expenditures are permissible, there should be established criteria and documentation required to ensure transparency and accountability. The audits point to procedures used by other district attorneys as examples to be considered.
In the 15-month audit period, WCDA spent $205,164 to support community organizations and activities. Auditors found 30 expenditures totaling $56,196 lacking sufficient records to explain the nature of the expense, its law enforcement purpose, or who received the item or service. For example, WCDA spent $15,200 on tree-trimming services for local schools and organizations but lacked documentation to indicate that the work was actually completed or explain its law-enforcement purpose. In the same time period, auditors reviewed a sample of the $922,026 in forfeited funds spent by BCDA and identified $2,050 in payments made to nonprofits which lacked similar documentation.
While no evidence of misuse or noncompliance were found, the audit details how both offices could benefit by implementing generally accepted best practices.
“It is admirable that the District Attorneys are able to turn the profits of crime into something positive for the community,” said Auditor Bump. “At the same time, all expenditures should be properly accounted for. To assure the public that these funds are handled and expended appropriately, it is important that forfeited funds policies be strengthened.”
Other findings of the audits included:
- Because WCDA failed to update its database, monthly variances existed between WCDA’s electronic record of confiscated funds and the actual money deposited in its account ranging from $8,968 to $346,448.
- Because of a lack of necessary standards from the state both WCDA and BCDA are holding large amounts of interest earned from seized funds ($90,000 and $10,403 respectively) not knowing whether it can be used or must be forwarded to the state treasury. Working with Auditor Bump, the Office of the State Comptroller is devising a policy in this regard. WCDA has left the money in its seized accounts, but BCDA, moved the money to an account outside the state’s oversight.
Auditor Bump has called on WCDA and BCDA to implement a full set of policies to guide their use of forfeited funds, document and improve their internal controls in many areas, and to adhere to the pending guidance being developed by the State Comptroller in order to resolve other outstanding findings.
WCDA responded positively to all findings and reports it has already begun to implement a number of the recommendations. BCDA, too, has begun revising its internal controls.
The Office of the State Auditor conducts technical and performance assessments of state government’s programs, departments, agencies, authorities, contracts, and vendors. With its reports, the OSA issues recommendations to improve accountability, efficiency, and transparency.