Howard County cashed in on its biggest confiscation of drug money ever when almost $21,000 from a single bust was turned over to county coffers Thursday.
But last week, the county had to return $9,000 from another drug bust, confiscated almost two years ago.
Assistant County Solicitor F. Todd Taylor said the county goes to court once or twice a month to confiscate money found on drug dealers at the time of their arrest.
So far this year, the county has confiscated about $54,000, with Thursday's take equaling almost half the total. The county also confiscated $1,500 from another drug dealer on Thursday. Circuit Judge Raymond J. Kane Jr. approved the money transfers.
Last year, the county confiscated $26,000 from drug dealers. The typical take is $1,000 to $2,000 for a single arrest, Taylor said.
The money goes toward training police officers, additional law enforcement efforts and drug education programs, Taylor said.
Last week, the county had to return $9,000 it had confiscated from a defendant in 1988 after Circuit Judge James B. Dudley ruled that the county could not prove the money was linked to drug sales.
In that case, the defendant was convicted of a handgun charge, but not drug possession or distribution, Taylor said.
In Thursday's case, Kane said he believed the money seized was the result of the defendant's drug dealing. The defendant, Sean Hurley, 29, was convicted of selling LSD out of a Chevrolet Blazer in September 1989 at the Grateful Dead concert at Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia.
Hurley, of Virginia Beach, Va., was given a one-year suspended sentence and two years probation, Taylor said.
He added that taking money from drug dealers is one of the most effective tools in the "war on drugs."
"That's nothing to them," he said, referring to suspended sentences.
"But taking their money, that's where you hurt them the most."
Taylor said the confiscation process works this way: when county police make a drug bust, they can confiscate money found in the defendant's possession or which could reasonably be presumed to be profits from drug sales. The money is then temporarily put in a special account.
Within 90 days after sentencing, the county must file a civil proceeding in Circuit Court and present evidence showing the money comes from drug transactions. A county judge then must approve the forfeiture.
Police Lt. E. Lawrence Knutson, commander of the county's vice and narcotics division, said police have occasionally confiscated larger sums than the $21,000, but the money was processed through federal courts, not state courts.
Money taken in drug arrests can be channeled through federal courts if agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration are involved in the arrest, Taylor said.