The U.S. Department of Justice wasn’t thrilled that a Georgia sheriff bought a 707-horsepower Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat with federal funds, demanding he reimburse the nearly $70,000 he spent. The DOJ got its money back, but local outlets report that the sheriff’s department just used county tax dollars on it instead.
The Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Department spent $69,258 on the car back in April, with Fox 5 Atlanta reporting that the department listed its use to be for “undercover/covert operations” and that it would be “purchased using asset-forfeiture funds.” Those funds are made up of assets deemed to “represent the proceeds of, or were used to facilitate federal crimes,” according to the DOJ.
The Hellcat became sheriff Butch Conway’s daily car, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that the DOJ deemed it an “extravagant expenditure” after initially approving it. The DOJ cut the department off from asking for or receiving forfeiture funds until it reimbursed the Hellcat money, and gave a deadline of July 31.
A few days after that deadline, Fox 5 reported that the DOJ got its money back—and that the department gave it back using county tax dollars. All it took was a money transfer from the department’s “vehicle replacement” account, which the Journal-Constitution reports to be “largely funded by tax revenue,” and Fox 5 reports that Conway still gets to drive the Hellcat to work.
The car will also be used in Gwinnett County’s “Beat the Heat” program, which tells people about the dangers of street racing and distracted driving. A photo of the car is at the top of the program’s webpage, under a Comic Sans slogan.
Here’s how the decision to pay for the car is going over with one local watchdog organization, from the Journal-Constitution:
It’s a move that one local watchdog characterized as “double abuse.”
“It was already an abuse of taxpayer dollars,” William Perry, the executive director of Georgia Ethics Watchdogs, said. “And now you’re gonna go and make it even worse by using actual Gwinnett County taxpayer money.” [...]
Conway, who has been sheriff since 1996, has grown familiar with controversy in recent years. He sparked backlash in 2015 when he sent The Atlanta Journal-Constitution an unsolicited letter declaring that “All Lives Matter.” He’s also a staunch supporter of the federal 287(g) immigration program, which has grown even more controversial since the election of President Donald Trump.
Gwinnett County isn’t done with the DOJ yet, though. Fox 5 reports that the DOJ has launched an investigation into all of the county’s spending using federal asset-forfeiture funds for the past five years, and that the department has to give the DOJ documentation “justifying every dollar spent” since 2013.
When the DOJ originally reached out about the Hellcat in a letter from July 10, the Journal-Constitution reported it as saying the “vehicle in question is a high-performance vehicle not typically purchased as part of a traditional fleet of law enforcement vehicles.” Conway disagreed and stood by the purchase, with one of the main reasons being that the DOJ has a lot of extra money.
From the Journal-Constitution:
“Sheriff Conway maintains that this vehicle is an appropriate purchase, especially for an agency with a $92 million budget and the opportunity this vehicle provides in making our roadways safer,” Deputy Shannon Volkodav, a sheriff’s office spokeswoman, said in a written statement. [...]
The sheriff’s Hellcat application touted the high-powered vehicle’s potential use in Gwinnett County’s Beat the Heat program, a nonprofit that uses drag races in controlled environments to “educate drivers about the dangers of distracted driving and illegal street racing.”
Probably because of the “high-performance vehicle” part of the DOJ letter, Fox 5 reports that the sheriff’s department originally wanted to only return the difference between a Charger Hellcat and a standard Charger to the DOJ. But, in the end, the sheriff’s department gave all of the money back—using cash from its own taxpayers.
A noble decision indeed.