|Tom Hunker, left, and Alphonse Capone.|
But while Bal Harbour is small, the tiny town's Bal Harbour Shops is ranked as the No. 1 most productive retail property in the country.
Bal Harbour's police force is also tiny. It has fewer than 30 officers and is headed by a retired Miami Beach Police narcotics detective named Tom Hunker. According to the Miami Herald, Hunker's base salary is $141,959.80 a year. The town also provides him with a car, health insurance and a pension plan.
So, why did Hunker, a police chief best known for running revenue-generating speed traps on A1A, become the target a federal investigation that's looking into allegations that his department - at his direction - misspent millions in drug money seized from criminals?
That's a question the Miami Herald's Daniel Chang has been trying to answer since last October with a series of eye-opening reports.
Yesterday, Chang reported that Hunker's department...
... Flush with millions of dollars seized from drug dealers, [...] financed a freewheeling spending spree: $3,200 for a Miami-Dade police chiefs golf outing at Miami Shores Country Club; $1,000 for two nights’ stay at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico; and thousands more in sumptuous meals at Carpaccio Restaurant in the Bal Harbour Shoppes.Chang also reports that according to U.S. Department of Justice findings, Bal Harbour's drug task force "operated like a rogue unit," and the department's "detectives made no arrests related to money laundering, and never presented a case for prosecution for money laundering, according to the Justice Department. The unit produced no investigative reports."
There were trips galore to Home Depot and Party City, for items such as cooking fuel and folding tables and chairs; to Publix and BJs Wholesale Club for food platters, dessert trays and picnic supplies; to BrandsMart USA for a flat-screen TV, a microwave oven and other appliances.
What did these expenses have to do with the department’s duty of serving and protecting Bal Harbour?
Little to nothing, according to the findings of an investigative report released last week by the U.S. Department of Justice that slams a Bal Harbour police task force that traveled the country picking up drug cash and laundering it during undercover investigations. The Justice Department said the task force laundered more money for criminals than it seized, and made no significant arrests or prosecutions — but spent the cash it did seize lavishly on salaries and benefits for officers, exceeding government spending guidelines with first-class flights, luxury car rentals and posh lodgings during undercover operations.
Even when police were not working undercover, they tapped federal forfeiture funds to buy hundreds of dollars worth of pizzas, sodas and snacks for Mothers Against Drunk Driving events or Crime Watch meetings, and they pulled out all the stops for DUI checkpoints, which frequently became occasions for catered cookouts for the cops, according to Bal Harbour credit card statements.
Expense records show Bal Harbour police routinely spent hundreds and sometimes thousands on party supplies and other items that had little to do with actual law enforcement, such as $1,500 worth of Apple iPads and accessories purchased at the Aventura Mall in August 2011 for a drug-prevention event.
Click here to read Chang's full report, "Bal Harbour cops spent lavishly with seized drug loot."
Other reports in Chang's series include:
Feds probe Bal Harbour Police Department over seized millions
Feds to Bal Harbour: Hand over seized drug loot
Bal Harbour leaders stand by embattled chief
Bal Harbour police chief suspended amid new allegations of misconduct
Hunker ‘pushed the envelope’ with methods, ex-Gables chief says
US Department of Justice investigation of Bal Harbour PD