Auditor to seek repayment of drug unit funds
By Philip Moulden
The state auditor’s office will demand repayment of undocumented expenditures by the North Mississippi Narcotics Unit, but the amount is still undetermined, Auditor Steve Patterson said Wednesday.
Patterson said his staff was going through a “rather voluminous” stack of materials supplied last week by Tupelo police “with a fine tooth comb.” The city’s offering was made in response to a “voluminous document” prepared by state auditors reportedly listing 178 alleged misdeeds by the narcotics unit.
The state’s findings should be complete in the next 10 working days, the auditor said.
The North Mississippi Narcotics Unit is a cooperative force involving 23 agents from law enforcement agencies in seven counties. It is headquartered at the Tupelo Police Department.
“We’re going through all their responses now, trying to give them the benefit of the doubt,” Patterson said. “There will be civil demands made (for repayment) on the narcotics unit.”
It was unclear who would have to repay the unaccounted for money, but demands were expected to be made against some individual officers. The unit is required to keep records on all spending, including drug buys, payments to informants, or the purchase of equipment or materials.
The unit typically spends $30,000 to $50,000 a year on such activities.
State auditors have been investigating the drug unit since late 1993, when two Tupelo City Council members complained that funds allocated to the force were not properly accounted for.
The councilmen also complained that narcotics officers were misusing city vehicles and a military surplus twin-engine airplane that had been obtained by the city through the state. The log book showed police flew the airplane to various locations, including Las Vegas, Florida and the Bahamas.
Police officials defended the airplane trips as necessary police business. Two stops in Las Vegas were made en route to and from Oregon where a fugitive wanted in Tupelo was being held, police said earlier.
The Bahamas trip was made to give the anticipated primary pilot experience in overwater flight and to make the plane, which carried untraceable markings, visible in international airports.
Officers said they intended to use the airplane in far-flung drug interdiction efforts in cooperation with the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, and other law enforcement agencies.
However, the airplane was reclaimed by the state and sold after the controversy over its use erupted. That controversy continues.
Questions about the use of city vehicles were cleared, but “that does not include the airplane,” Patterson said Wednesday.