Proposed state budget hits law enforcement income

ALBANY, Ga. -- When the Senate approved the state's $17.8 billion budget Wednesday, it left out about $700,000 in financing for an organization that last year generated millions for the fight against crime.

The Prosecuting Attorneys' Council of Georgia fought for $3.8 million from drug dealers through forfeiture cases last year, said Richard Malone, council executive director.

Malone's organization received none of the money recovered from seized property, such as drug-dealers cars. The council, headquartered in Atlanta with local offices in Albany, Savannah and Macon, operated on about $700,000 in state funds.

The money from forfeitures went to agencies throughout the state that seize assets during arrests, such as the Albany-Dougherty Drug Unit. District attorney offices got 10 percent of the money from the seizures made by their law enforcement agencies, bolstering their budgets as well.

Maj. Bill Berry, Albany's drug unit commander, said his agency received more than $100,000 from criminal assets the Prosecuting Attorneys Council's Albany-based attorney, Brad Rigby, obtained for him.

Berry's list of equipment and training opportunities financed by seized property stretched on during an interview Wednesday. It included the purchase of drug-detecting dogs and more.

"The money we get from the forfeiture of drug dealers' property, cars and other property goes to training and equipment," Berry said. "We bought computers, video cameras, bullet-proof vests and this building we are in (the drug unit headquarters on Pine Avenue) didn't cost the taxpayers a dime. We bought it with money from drug dealers."

Malone hopes to find alternative ways to keep his offices operational as the July 1 start of the new budget year approaches.

"I think we can find a way to contract with the agencies we serve," Malone said. "We got the agencies $3.8 million operating on $700,000.

We owe it to the people of Georgia to help fight against the plague of drugs."

Without the prosecuting council's attorney to file suit, the work to obtain the seized property would fall to the Dougherty Judicial Circuit District Attorneys Office.

Considering that the Dougherty District Attorney's Office has a staff of 15 that prosecuted more than 3,000 felonies and 19,000 misdemeanors last year, that could cost valuable time.

"If I have to do it then the ability to prosecute crime will be lower," said Greg Edwards, district attorney. "It is a highly specialized civil proceeding. A joint effort from all the DAs in the state must make a joint effort to save the Prosecuting Attorneys Council."

The Senate's version of the budget passed by a vote of 49-2. The two senators who opposed the budget were Robert Brown, D-Macon, and J.B. Powell, D-Blythe, according to The Associated Press. Sen. Freddie Powell Sims, D-Dawson, whose District 12 includes Dougherty County, did not return a phone message left with a staff member.

The Senate and House versions of the FY 2011 spending plan now have to be reconciled as the Legislature moves into its final days.