Auditors to gain access to files of drug task force

May 10, 1994|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Sun Staff Writer

State police will allow county auditors to examine investigative files that the Carroll County Narcotics Task Force has been withholding, a high-ranking police official said yesterday.

In a move designed to end the nearly yearlong audit of the drug task force, Maj. John P. Cook last week told county internal auditors they may examine the files of closed investigations.

"I hope this chapter will pretty well come to an end," Major Cook said yesterday. His decision allows auditors access to some of the files Carroll State's Attorney Thomas E. Hickman had placed off-limits two months ago. "We want them to understand how we do this. It's not by magic."

On Feb. 10, the county auditors asked to examine task force investigative records to "tie up loose ends" in an audit started last year, a county official, who requested anonymity, said in March. The county commissioners ordered the audit last May vTC after attorneys, judges and the American Civil Liberties Union expressed concern about the task force's methods of confiscating property from drug suspects.

The auditors found no financial improprieties. But the county official said yesterday the commissioners wanted a money trail for the cars, weapons and cash that the task force seized from drug suspects.

"We just want an audit trail," the official said. He predicted this phase -- most likely the final step -- of the audit should be completed in about a month. The auditors want to trace how the task force seizes property from suspects and where that property ends up after it is seized.

The audit has been a source of irritation to the task force.

"Look, we're in the business of putting drug dealers in jail," Major Cook said yesterday. "We want to get on with that job."

Mr. Hickman, who is on the drug group's advisory board, has told the commissioners they lack the authority to order an audit.

In a confidential Feb. 15 letter denying the commissioners access to task force records, Mr. Hickman said he was "surprised" that county auditors were continuing their investigation.

"It may well occur to a private citizen or the media or another elected official or someone running for office this year that it is rather obvious that the county commissioners do not have the authority to conduct a performance audit of the state and city entities which make up the task force," Mr. Hickman wrote.

The task force is comprised of state police, Westminster city police, county sheriff's deputies and an assistant state's attorney. Its advisory board consists of Mr. Hickman, county Sheriff John H. Brown, Westminster Police Chief Sam R. Leppo and state police representatives.

Yesterday, Chief Leppo said he hoped this was the last step in the audit. "The commissioners have said before that this was over, and then I get this phone call from an auditor last week," he said. "We've given them everything we have."

Chief Leppo is responsible for maintaining the financial records of the task force, while Major Cook and state police maintain the group's investigative files.

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