The U.S. Justice Department Inspector General says the department spent nearly $7 million to plan, host, or send employees to 10 conferences over the last two years, reports the Associated Press. This included paying $4 per meatball at one lavish dinner and spreading an average of $25 worth of snacks around to each participant at a movie-themed party. More than $13,000 was spent on cookies and brownies for 1,542 people who attended a four-day “Weed and Seed” conference in 2005. A “networking” session replete with butterfly shrimp, coconut lobster skewers, and Swedish meatballs at a Community Oriented Policing Services conference in 2006 cost more than $60,000.
The report was ordered by the Senate Appropriations Committee. It found that three-quarters of the employees who attended the conferences sought daily reimbursement for the cost of meals while traveling, which the AP called double-dipping into government funds. Auditors “found that using appropriated funds to pay for expensive meals and snacks at certain DOJ conferences, while allowable, appear to have been extravagant.” The Justice Department promised to prevent future extravagances of the sort that that Fine’s auditors turned up. The most expensive conference on the list was a $1.4 million meeting in Denver in 2006, to discuss Project Safe Neighborhoods. The program, which cracks down on guns, gangs, and drugs, was a top priority for departed Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.