Asset forfeiture: Who tracks the money in C.O.?

Amid investigation, a look at the oversight in place

Asset forfeiture on the High Desert

BEND, Ore. - Amid a missing money scandal within the Deschutes County Sheriff's Office, NewsChannel 21 decided to take a closer look at how police on the High Desert seize money in asset forfeiture cases and manage those accounts.

Asset forfeiture is a legal term describing how police seize money used or earned for criminal purposes. There are two ways this money is confiscated: through civil cases, which are drug-related, and criminal cases, which encompass a broad spectrum of other crimes.

Deschutes County Sheriff Shane Nelson told NewsChannel 21 he is unable to release records at this time regarding the department's management of asset forfeitures collected through the Central Oregon Drug Enforcement Team.

He said the documents are important to the ongoing investigation into a supervisor who may have stolen money from multiagency accounts.

NewsChannel 21 has learned through an unidentified source familiar with the investigation that sheriff's Capt. Scott Beard is the employee being investigated.

The sheriff's office website says Beard is a supervisor of the CODE Team.

A report complied by the Asset Forfeiture Oversight Advisory to the Oregon Legislature shows in 2013 the CODE Team made seizures in 21 civil forfeiture cases and eight criminal forfeiture ones.

Crook County District Attorney Daina Vitolins is the CODE Team's legal adviser. Vitolins is also a member of the Criminal Justice Commission's Asset Forfeiture Oversight Advisory Committee.

Vitolins told NewsChannel 21 on Thursday the CODE Team conducted roughly the same number of forfeiture seizures in 2014 as it did the previous year. She said the team typically seizes between $50,000 and $100,000 worth of assets each year -- that can be cash, cars or other equipment or possessions.

"The Deschutes County Sheriff's Office manages all the civil forfeiture accounts for the Central Oregon Drug Enforcement Team," Vitolins said. "(The cash) is placed in evidence, and when it is forfeited, it then goes into another account for distribution."

The cash is then split up between agencies and other organizations, including the DEQ's Illegal Drug Cleanup Fund, the Asset Forfeiture Oversight Advisory Committee, the state's general fund and the seizing agency.

Vitolins said the CODE Team will get back roughly 63 percent of the money it seizes. That money is used for its investigative work.

CODE is a mutual assist team through Central Oregon Law Enforcement Services (COLES), which is comprised of the Deschutes, Jefferson and Crook County sheriff's departments, police departments for cities on the High Desert and Oregon State Police.

Vitolins said her role on the Asset Forfeiture Oversight Advisory Committee includes making suggestions to the Legislature on forfeiture changes and monitoring how forfeitures are going in the state.

She said the Criminal Justice Commission is charged with making sure law enforcement agencies are accurately reporting forfeitures.

The CODE Team is currently supervised by Bend police Lt. Ken Mannix.

Nelson told NewsChannel 21 he will discuss with NewsChannel 21 the sheriff's office's role in CODE and how that money is managed. That story will air next week.

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