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Prosecutors’ tracking of grants criticized

Auditor seeks proof of crime-fighting use

The state auditor is urging prosecutors in Worcester and Bristol counties to increase transparency in their grants to community groups, to ensure the money is used for crime fighting and prevention as required by law.

The money comes from criminal proceeds that are forfeited to authorities and must be used for law enforcement purposes.

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In reports released Friday, Auditor Suzanne M. Bump’s office said Bristol and Worcester prosecutors lacked sufficient documentation to show that some grants were being used to further the aims of law enforcement. The audits covered the period from July 1, 2010 through Sept. 30, 2011.

Worcester District Attorney Joseph D. Early Jr. and Bristol District Attorney C. Samuel Sutter defended their outlays to nonprofits as efforts to steer youths away from crime, and Early said his office is finalizing a written policy to add to the internal controls of its fund.

Early said Sunday in a statement that the grants “keep children away from crime through afterschool activities, giving them a place to play. Working with our private, non-profit partners in the community is crucial to fulfilling that mission.”

Sutter echoed those comments in a statement.

“These four small donations were for organizations and activities designed to help at-risk youth in New Bedford and Fall River,” he said. “The auditor’s office would like to see us adopt a more formalized process for determining how we go about making these kinds of donations.”

‘Purchases made with the funds were made to keep kids busy and active, which has been shown to help to prevent crime.’

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Sutter added that state law “makes it clear that the final decision is within the district attorney’s discretion so long as the contribution has a law enforcement purpose, and these certainly did.”

According to the Worcester report, auditors found 30 expenditures totaling $56,196 that lacked adequate documentation, such as the nature of the expense, the recipient, or the law enforcement purpose, the audit states.

Among the expenditures was a $15,200 payment to a vendor for tree-trimming near schools and a community center after an ice storm, but “there were no invoices indicating that the work was completed,” the report states.

Auditors also found a $23,733 donation to a community center to refurbish tennis and basketball courts, but the center did not indicate how many at-risk youths would benefit, and “the law enforcement purpose . . . was unclear,” according to the report.

Early said Sunday that the “purchases made with the funds were made to keep kids busy and active, which has been shown to help to prevent crime. The law enforcement purpose for the use of these funds is very clear: it is the prevention of crime.”

In Sutter’s office, auditors identified $2,050 in grants that lacked sufficient documentation.

The office has no written policies for disbursements, and “there is inadequate assurance that these funds were used for law enforcement purposes and were distributed fairly and equitably,” the report stated.

Auditors noted in both reports that Middlesex and Suffolk prosecutors have formal grant application processes for community groups.

Sutter’s office contended that “the use, by the Middlesex and Suffolk district attorneys, of a grant application process is inapplicable to [Sutter] or any other district attorney because there is no requirement that such a process be used,” according to the audit.

Auditors countered that while state law permits district attorneys to use the funds in any manner they deem appropriate, “this does not mitigate a district attorney’s responsibility to properly account for these funds by establishing adequate internal controls” over the process.

In a statement, Bump praised both offices for turning “profits of crime into something positive for the community” but reiterated that all expenditures must be properly tracked.

Travis Andersen can be reached at tandersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.
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