A county sheriff in Georgia is in hot water after using nearly $70,000 in asset forfeiture funds to purchase a Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat. Gwinnett county sheriff Butch Conway took delivery of the 707-horsepower sedan and uses the car for transportation to and from work, as well as for field operations and as an undercover police vehicle.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported last Thursday that the Department of Justice called the purchase of the Charger Hellcat "extravagant" and said "the vehicle in question is a high-performance vehicle not typically purchased as part of a traditional fleet of law enforcement vehicles."
Guidelines for the "equitable sharing program," which is part of the DOJ’s Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section, explicitly prohibit spending on extravagant purchases. Instead, the funds are meant to support local agencies and support their various missions.
According to the report, county officials will comply with a request by the DOJ to reimburse the funds after the federal government initially approved the purchase. The county said it will now add "review points" in the acquisition process after the controversial Charger Hellcat purchase. The sheriff's office is also unable to request additional asset forfeiture funds until the government is reimbursed for the muscle car. The DOJ gave Gwinnett County a July 31 deadline to comply.
The sheriff's office has defended the purchase and said the car will also potentially be used in Gwinnett's "Beat the Heat" program, a nonprofit that teaches drivers about the dangers of distracted driving and street racing. The program stages drag races in controlled environments. A sheriff’s office spokeswoman said, "this vehicle is an appropriate purchase, especially for an agency with a $92 million budget and the opportunity this vehicle provides in making our roadways safer."
William Perry, the executive director of Georgia Ethics Watchdogs, responded by calling the explanation “bullfeathers," saying money from seized assets should be treated like taxpayer dollars, and calling for Conway to write a personal check for the car to save face.