After Yearlong Fight, Dallas County Gets Its Cut of Federal Forfeiture Cash Back

The Department of Justice has ended it's long-term freeze of federal forfeiture funds from the Dallas County District Attorney's Office. Monday, District Attorney Susan Hawk announced that as of March 14 her office had assured the feds that it had taken appropriate measures to ensure that forfeiture funds were being used in a documented, appropriate way.

The Department of Justice freeze on the money, about $100,000 at the time it was frozen, began about a year and a half ago in November 2014. The money is allocated to local law enforcement agencies when they assist in a federal investigation that nets resources like cars or cash.

Under then District Attorney Craig Watkins, on his way out of office following an electoral challenge from Hawk, the DA's office faced scrutiny from both the Department of Justice and the Texas auditor for its handling of forfeiture money, with both organizations eventually finding that Watkins and his office had both misused forfeiture cash and failed to account for it properly. Watkins told the Observer last fall that the state claims amounted to a political witch hunt.

"Obviously, [the auditor's report] is a smoke and mirrors thing to divert attention from Susan Hawk's problems and put them back on Craig, because they think I'm going to run again," Watkins said. "I'm trying to run a business. I'm not in politics anymore. Obviously, the auditor is a Republican. You've got [state Representative Jason] Villalba, who is also a Republican, calling for the attorney general to investigate me. This is just politics when there is no cause for it."

After Hawk took the reins from Watkins in January 2015, her office created new procedure manuals for dealing with the use of forfeiture cash, placed existing forfeiture money into escrow accounts that can be directly overseen by the Dallas County Auditor and posted a list of all forfeiture money spent online.

In announcing Dallas County's getting back in on the federal program, Hawk said she was following through on her office's promise to increase transparency and praised Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins and the county commissioners for their support of her office, which has been noticeably drama free since a removal suit against Hawk was dismissed in February.

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Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young