A Duval County Sheriff's Department Abandoned Vehicle Forfeiture Fund audit dating from 2005 through 2008 recently revealed questionable findings that were presented to the county commissioners this month.
Deficiencies cited in the audit ranged from records mismanagement to thousands of dollars that were deemed unaccounted for and missing. Serving as sheriff during the time period was Santiago Barrera Jr.
Among the purposes of the audit was to make recommendations and assist the sheriff's office in protecting its assets in the future, said CPA Craig Adamson during the report.
In light of the findings, current sheriff Romeo Ramirez said most of the recommendations have been implemented in regard to the AVF Fund since he took office in January 2009.
The AVF Fund is an account where money is deposited from the sale of vehicles which were abandoned because of criminal activity and were taken ownership of by the sheriff's department. If the original owner is not located, the general public has a chance to purchase a vehicle at an auction held by the sheriff's office.
"The main change is that the sheriff's office no longer handles the accounts; the county auditor now handles them," he said. "All expenditures are public record, too."
In 2009, Ramirez said, a total of about $130,000 from three auctions held was collected, and was deposited into the AVF Fund account.
"Sales from auctions now are deposited the day after, not three weeks after or more," said Ramirez.
"Accepted are cash, money orders and personal checks, which we haven't had any trouble with."
All sales are final, must be paid in full, and there are no payment plans. The buyer must pick up the vehicle within three days, he added.
Ramirez said only a maximum amount of $5,000 is used from the AVF Fund to cover office expenses, which is kept in a petty cash account.
"Receipts are turned in and careful records are kept," he said.
Also managed by the county auditor are the Sheriff's Federal Forfeiture Fund and the Sheriff's Drug Forfeiture Fund, he said.
"They're smaller fund accounts, and will soon be audited, too," he said.
No longer being managed by the sheriff's office is money for inmate commissary orders, said Ramirez.
He said families of inmates now purchase money orders, which are wired directly to a bank account, which credits the inmate.
Inmates are able to purchase whatever items they need and the payment balance is kept up with at the bank, he explained.
Ramirez said, "We've made a lot of changes, and I'd say they're working very well."