(Washington, DC) U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, wants answers from the U.S. Marshals Service (USMS) about wasteful and potentially unlawful spending of funds recovered through criminal investigations and civil asset forfeitures. He also said that the agency misled Congress about the spending after the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Oversight and Investigations staff conducted a review.
A memorandum compiled by committee investigators outlines a history of excessive and wasteful spending of the Assets Forfeiture Fund (AFF) by the USMS, which manages assets seized through the Asset Forfeiture Program. Among them, the USMS has used funds to outfit a facility in Texas with luxury furnishings like high-end granite countertops and expensive custom artwork. That facility is scheduled to be used only 52 days in 2017 and was used only 32 days in 2014. USMS has also paid salaries, vacation time and benefits of employees out of the AFF for work unrelated to asset forfeiture and in such a way that it apparently produced a “net gain” of $1.3 million to the USMS.
Contrary to the AFF’s authorizing statute, the memo outlines, the USMS also has used AFF funds to pay for federal law enforcement officer activity that is not eligible to be covered by those funds. The AFF is primarily used for victim restitution and law enforcement activities, including certain expenses for joint law enforcement operations with non-federal agencies.
“There are laws governing the use of this money for a reason. Money set aside to fight crime and support victims should not be treated as a slush fund for extravagances, and it should not be misused to thwart clear spending rules set by Congress. In our constitutional system of checks and balances, Congress has the power of the purse. Playing games with unappropriated funds to avoid accountability is outrageous and cannot be tolerated,” Grassley said in a released statement.
Grassley in a letter sent to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Lee Lofthus, Assistant Attorney General for Administration, seeks answers about any updated internal guidance on these types of expenditures and any accountability measures in place or planned for future implementation. Grassley also raised questions regarding some of the specific expenditures and documents relating to AFF assets managed by the USMS.
This is not the first time he had questions about USMS activity. Grassley has repeatedly sought clarification on these and other expenditures by the USMS, but has either received no response or inaccurate, misleading information. For example, the USMS underreported to the Committee annual expenditures on the aforementioned Texas facility by more than $93,000. Based on whistleblower allegations, Grassley also requested additional information about the agency’s spending, including the use of the AFF to fund non-AFF work. For some of these requests, Grassley received no response.
The text of the letter and memo can be read below: