-via the Miami Herald - Feds to Bal Harbour: Hand over $4 million in seized drug loot. The U.S. Justice Department shut down Bal Harbour’s celebrated federal forfeiture program and ordered the police to return more than $4 million, slapping the agency with crushing sanctions for tapping into drug money to pay for first-class flights, luxury car rentals and payments to informants across the country. Click here for details.
|Bal Harbour Police Chief Tom Hunker, left, and Al Capone.|
The Bal Harbour Police Department’s V.I.N. (Vice Intelligence Narcotics) Unit works closely with other agencies to crack down on this serious problem plaguing our country. On a yearly basis our V.I.N. unit recovers thousands of dollars in illegally obtained drug currency and conducts many investigations that most often lead to the arrests of those polluting our streets with narcotics.
In addition to the aggressive stance against drugs, our undercover officers are involved in various operations both within Bal Harbour and outside the city limits.
The funds siezed in these operations, allow BHPD to fortify the department with the best tools and technology available, at no additional cost to the tax payers, whom we are dedicated to protecting. -Bal Harbour Police Department website
In just one month, the village’s police helped reel in $3 million — and by the end of the year, they took more dollars from drug dealers than any police force in Florida.
While small police departments rarely venture beyond their borders, Bal Harbour’s force has become a massive cash generator, infiltrating drug organizations across the country with no connection to the coastal village. -Miami Herald, Oct. 28, 2012.
In hindsight, it appears as though the clues were hiding in plain sight on the Bal Harbour Police Department's website: "On a yearly basis our [narcotics] unit recovers thousands of dollars in illegally obtained drug currency..."
But, it turns out the money recovered was a bit more than "thousands."
The Miami Herald's Michael Sallah and Daniel Chang are reporting in a page one story in this morning's paper that Bal Harbour's police department seizes "more dollars from drug dealers than any police force in Florida."
Visit the crime stats page on the Bal Harbour PD's website and you'll learn that the tiny town - which measures about a half square mile in size - has issued almost 3,000 traffic citations and a little less than 700 parking tickets so far this year. The town's 27-man police force has also made about 40 arrests. But there's no mention of how many of those arrests were for drug-related offenses. And there's only the one hazy mention on the website of "thousands of dollars in drug currency" seized.
And perhaps that's what caught the attention of the feds.
The Herald's Sallah and Chang report that Bal Harbour's vice and narcotics unit....
...is under federal investigation for its handling of millions in seized dollars.
Federal agents are looking at the flow of money into the town — including plainclothes cops toting bags stuffed with cash on airliners and later counting it in a police trailer.
For years, the department of 27 officers, serving a village of 2,574 people, has run its forfeiture program like an ATM machine, tapping into a network of informants who led police to the cash.
And for years, the money rained on Bal Harbour: $100,000 for a 35-foot boat powered by three Mercury outboards, $108,000 for a mobile command truck equipped with satellite and flat-screen TVs, $25,463 for next generation Taser X-2s.
There was $7,000 for a police chiefs’ banquet, $45,839 for a Chevy Tahoe, $26,473 for Apple computers, $15,000 for a laser virtual firing range and $21,000 for an anti-drug beach bash
Bal Harbour's police chief, Tom Hunker, blames the investigation by the feds on "jealousy."
Sometimes we give them cases. Sometimes we don’t. If we don’t give them a big case, and we get a big hit, they get pissed. It’s competition.Last spring, Hunker somehow beat out dozens of more qualified candidates to become one of four finalists for the job of Miami Beach's police chief.
Many Miami Beach cops were incredulous that Hunker made it as far as he did in the selection process. Some still blamed him for his role in a botched 1988 drug sting that left a much-admired Miami Beach undercover cop dead.
Other officers took to law enforcement internet message boards and wrote posts derisively labeling Hunker as "Al Capone," an allusion to his management style.
Hunker didn't get the job.
This morning one source familiar with the inner workings of Miami Beach's police department told me: "I hate to tell you that I told you so, but I told you so. Looks like Al Capone...or should I say Tommy? ...is in a heap o' trouble."
Read the complete Miami Herald investigation by clicking here.