by Pam Zubeck
A source close to Sheriff Bill Elder confirmed that last fall the Department of Justice (DOJ) completed an audit of the Special Investigation Fund (SIF), which is managed by The El Paso County Sheriff’s Office (EPSO), and found some “irregularities” and/or fraud with the handling of these accounts. The severity of these “irregularities” were such that the funds, which total approximately 900k, were frozen until further notice.According to the Sheriff's Office, there has been no finding of fraud, but it's true the local fund was frozen for about five months. Also, there might, indeed, be findings of "irregularities" and/or fraud in the future, because the DOJ review is ongoing and there's no specific date on which it will be completed.
The City of Colorado Springs Police Department (CSPD), the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office (EPSO) and the 4th Judicial District Attorney’s Office, along with a number of smaller law enforcement agencies have operated a special investigations fund (SIF) for well over thirty years under an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) approved by the Colorado Springs City Council and the Board of County Commissioners. The sources of funds for this account were seizures of property ordered by state courts as well as federal equitable sharing funds which came from seizures conducted by federal law enforcement as a result of joint task forces operated in conjunction with CSPD and EPSO. Funds in this account were used by the Metro Vice, Narcotics and Intelligence Unit (Metro VNI), acting as a joint task force, to support primarily narcotics investigations. The fund paid for such items as overtime, vehicle leases, phone bills, tactical equipment and other items, all specifically approved by the SIF Board, consisting of the Colorado Springs Police Chief, El Paso County Sheriff and District Attorney. The financial practices for this fund have been in place for many years to include the previous three EPSO administrations. EPSO has acted as the fiscal agent for this fund many years. The fund has been audited numerous times by independent auditors with no significant findings.Asked about the review, CSPD spokesman Lt. Howard Black says via email, "The DOJ compliance review has had no impact on the day-to-day operations of Metro VNI."
In August of 2016, the fund underwent a routine federal Department of Justice (DOJ) compliance review. During this compliance review federal authorities discovered that the way in which the fund was receiving and accounting for federal equitable sharing funds did not meet current federal requirements. Specifically, the funds were deposited into a bank account owned by the County, while the City of Colorado Springs applied for the federal funds, as the agencies operated as a joint task force. The operation of a task force has different federal requirements from those contained in the Metro VNI intergovernmental agreement. The DOJ requested that we stop spending federal funds while we worked with them to develop procedures that would meet federal requirements. CSPD and EPSO complied with that request. CSPD and EPSO, along with City and County Financial authorities are continuing to work with the DOJ to finalize the compliance review. The do not spend request has since been lifted by federal authorities.