June 19, 1998 -- District Attorney Bill Gibson's 13th Judicial District Drug Task Force has used asset forfeitures to indirectly supplement the salaries of its members, a practice that personally has benefitted drug agents empowered to seize and dispose of private property byauction, The Putnam Pit has found.
In a letter to City Hall acquired by The Putnam Pit, Bob Terry, the director of the 13th Judicial District Drug Task Force, writes that funds received through asset forfeitures are used to reimburse the City of Cookeville for the overtime incurred by members of the task force. The document was obtained pursuant to the Tennessee open-records law.
In an April 23, 1998 letter to Cookeville City Manager Jim Shipley, Terry writes, "We do overtime reimbursement when assests become available; by way of auctions, forfeitures, federal asset sharing, etc."
But section 40-33-211 of the Tennessee State Code prohibits seizures and forfeitures from being used to pay the salaries of Task Force members: "Funds derived from such seizures, confiscations and sales shall not be used to supplement the salaries of any public employee or law enforcement officer."
"It does raise an issue with me," said Richard V. Norment, director of the state's County Audit Division. "This sounds like something that merits further looking."
Norment defined "overtime" as part of an officer's salary. "Sounds like they're using it [the auctions and forfeitures] to supplement their salary. . . A supplement's a supplement whether it's overtime or regular."
The leading beneficiary of the overtime supplement has been Task Force Director Bob Terry. Between July 1997 and January 1998 Sgt. Terry logged 255 hours of overtime, the equivalent of six additional forty-hour work weeks.
Terry has continued to pile up the overtime in 1998. He reported 121 overtime hours in the first 129 days of the year, including five hours logged on May 9 at an auction of forfeitured assets. In other words, Officer Terry worked overtime auctioning property in order to pay his overtime.
If he continues to work at the current rate, Terry will amass 342 overtime hours in 1998, the equivalent of almost nine extra forty-hour work weeks.
Who authorized Terry to work the additional hours? Apparently, Terry is able to write his own ticket (and we ain't talkin' a Lewis Coomer parkin' ticket, neither!). According to Cookeville City Manager Jim Shipley, "The approval of overtime incurred on the Task Force's behalf is authorized by the Task Force."
The City of Cookeville pays the overtime of city policemen assigned to the Task Force. The City bills the Task Force for reimbursement of the overtime, and the Task Force forwards the bill to the Putnam County government. When money becomes available through the auction of seized or forfeitured property, the county decides which bills are to be paid.
Here are some of the hours worked by Terry, according to files obtained through public records requests at City Hall:
Payperiod ending 4/25: 10 hours. Breakdown: 5 hrs. 4/19; 1 hr. 4/21; 1 hr. 4/22; 1 hr. 4/23; 1 hr. 4/24.
Payperiod ending 4/11/98: 0 hours.
Payperiod ending 3/14/98: 21.5 hours. Breakdown: 1.5 hrs. 3/2; 2 hrs. 3/3; 1.5 hours 3/4; 2 hrs. 3/5; 4 hrs. 3/7.
Payperiod ending 2/28/98: 39.5 hours. Breakdown: 2 hrs. 2/16; 4 hrs. 2/22; 3 hrs. 2/23; 2.5 hrs. 2/24; 4 hrs. 2/28; 4 hrs. 3/1.
Payperiod ending 2/14/98: 0 hrs.
Payperiod ending 1/31/98: 13 hours. Breakdown: 1 hr. 1/22; 4 hrs. 1/26; 4 hrs. 1/29; 4 hrs. 1/31.
Payperiod ending 1/17/98: 27 hours. Breakdown: 8 hrs. 12/27; 5 hrs. 1/4; 4 hrs.1/10; 2 hrs. 1/15; 8 hrs. 1/17.