The U.S. Justice Department shut down Bal Harbour, Fl.’'s celebrated federal forfeiture program and ordered the police to return more than $4 million, slapping the agency with crushing sanctions for tapping into drug money to pay for first-class flights, luxury car rentals, and payments to informants across the U.S., the Miami Herald reports. After years of seizing millions from criminals, Bal Harbour's vice squad is banned from the federal program that allowed the village police for years to seize cars, boats, and cash and to keep a cut of the proceeds.
In a scathing letter to Police Chief Thomas Hunker, federal agents demand the prompt surrender of the millions reeled in last year by a team that operates from a police trailer blocks from opulent Bal Harbour Shops. For years, the small coastal town known for speed traps became one of the most successful in Florida, with plainclothes cops jetting across the nation toting bags stuffed with cash from investigations that had no connection to Bal Harbour, and making few arrests. The action by DOJ's criminal division comes after a lengthy investigation that began last year with an audit and escalated into a deep probe that turned up problems including questionable expenses, hundreds of thousands paid to snitches, and missing records.