ST. LOUIS (CN) - The St. Louis Police Department has admitted it raised about $6 million by disregarding money seizure laws. The laws require police to return seized money to its owner, use it to satisfy back child support or forfeit it to a state school fund. Instead, the department kept the money and earned interest on it for years, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
The department admitted to the wrongdoing after a Post-Dispatch reporter raised questions when the police board voted 5-0 in a recent meeting to spend $188,000 from its budget to cover improper spending from interest the department had earned on the fund.
Officials said the problems came to light after a 2007 audit. In looking only at money seized since 2004, the audit found the department wrongly kept money from suspects; shorted families owed child support; should have sent $123,790 to a state schools fund; and misspent $165,000 in interest money.
The department says it has begun to look for the right owners of the wrongly kept money and has returned $475,000 to 121 people, but does not know how much more money is owed.
The department also recently sent $355,631 to the Family Support Payment Center to cover suspects' unpaid child support.
With its recent efforts, "the department is making every effort to right a wrong," spokeswoman Erica Van Ross told the Post-Dispatch.
It is the latest misstep for a department that has been troubled by scandals, especially when it involves seizure of evidence.
In the past two years, the department admitted that money was missing from its evidence room and that officers misused 2006 World Series tickets seized from scalpers.
Last week, federal authorities accused two officers of pocketing $30,000 during a drug bust.
And earlier this year, the Post-Dispatch reported that police routinely seized cars and sent the vehicles to a private tow lot which held a lucrative contract. The lot allegedly provided free use of some of the cars and major discounts on others to officers and former Police Chief Joe Mokwa's daughter. Mokwa retired shortly after the story became public. A state audit of the department brought about by the story is continuing.
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