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DALLAS COUNTY (CBSDFW.COM) – U.S. Department of Justice auditors are in Dallas , looking into the way District Attorney Craig Watkins’ office has spent federal forfeiture funds.

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The DA’s office, like many law enforcement agencies, share money seized from criminals if they help make the case.  Money can come from the state and the U.S. Department of Justice.

It’s how Watkins spent federal forfeiture funds is what’s up for review.  He has wide discretion over how the money is used, but it’s supposed to benefit law enforcement.

State forfeiture funds were used to settle repairs and a lawsuit from when he wrecked a county car.

But critics like Dallas County Commissioner Mike Cantrell believe payment for the car itself ultimately came from federal sources.

“It’s my understanding that the county purchased the vehicle and then the DA used federal forfeiture funds to reimburse the county for that vehicle, so it became a federal forfeiture vehicle.  For use for law enforcement purposes,” said Cantrell.

But the DA’s director of communications insists that’s not the case.  “That was a state forfeiture-funded vehicle, Mr. Watkins was on DA business,” according to Debbie Denmon.

Denmon says the DOJ has heard about the car incident, even though she claims a county auditor’s report ultimately cleared her boss’s use of state funds.

“We’re under scrutiny, make no mistake and it was because of that vehicle accident that the DA stands behind that we did nothing wrong.”

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But former U-S Attorney Richard Roper believes the Justice Department wouldn’t be here without suspicion of their money going for unintended purposes.

“A law enforcement agency can’t take forfeiture money and send everybody on a trip to Aruba.   It has to be used for a specified law enforcement purpose,” he said adding, “The Department of Justice doesn’t routinely audit all recipients of federal forfeiture funds, so I’d have to say it’s an unusual development, especially I understand they hired an outside accounting firm to assist in the investigation which I also find to be unusual.”

Cantrell agrees.  “But for them to come from Washington to Dallas that’s pretty significant you’re flying in two people plus getting a major accounting firm to spend three days here looking at all the books.”

It’s believe roughly 100-thousand dollars of the DA’s federal forfeiture funds are currently frozen.  Roper wonders if it will drag on into the next DA’s administration.

Denman doesn’t think so. “They said they will free up the money after the audit. They want to make sure we’re in compliance as it relates to following rules,” she said.

Denmon admits this isn’t a routine audit, but claims DOJ performs 200 of them like this somewhere in America every year.

(©2014 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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