Gang Strike Force funding cut off after critical audit

Minnesota's Public Safety Commissioner says he will cut off funding for the Metro Gang Strike Force after a legislative audit revealed that the organization couldn't account for thousands of dollars in cash and vehicles.

Commissioner Michael Campion also said he will hire a former federal prosecutor and former FBI agent to investigate the agency, and will restart the funding only when he is sure the problems are fixed.

Legislative Auditor James Nobles said the missing cash adds up to more than $18,000. Thirteen cars are also missing.

The report found that a member of the strike force sold a seized flatscreen TV to a student worker for $30. The TV had to be recovered when the original owner asserted his legal right to get it back.

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"We concluded that the Metro Gang Strike Force's internal controls were not adequate to ensure that it safeguarded seized and forfeited property," Nobles said.

Nobles said the organization also spent money on things it shouldn't have. For example, strike force members used confidential informant funds for beverages, a vacuum cleaner and even $72 worth of doughnuts.

Cecile Ferkul, who spearheaded the investigation for the auditor's Office, said the Gang Strike Force also didn't adequately secure large amounts of money.

"When we examined the cash in the safe, it took two auditors a week to count the amount of cash," she said. "That was the case for hundreds of cases where cash has been seized."

State lawmakers called the findings disturbing. Campion said he'll ask the board that oversees the strike force to cease operations.

"I don't believe that we can do what needs to be done, implement these findings and recommendations in this report and run an operation day-to-day," he said.

Campion said he hopes to get the gang strike force running again in 30 days, and there's no plan to shut the strike force down permanently.

The Metro Gang Strike Force consists of 34 officers from 13 law enforcement agencies across the Twin Cities metropolitan area, charged with investigating illegal gang and drug activity. The operation has been criticized in recent months, most notably because of a report that found the strike force authorized a trip to Hawaii for six investigators.

West St. Paul Police Chief Bud Shaver, who chairs the Metro Gang Strike Force Advisory Board, acknowledged that the Force made some mistakes.

"Our administration and management of the task force needs to be cleaned up and we intend to do that," he said. "And we intend to get the public's trust back that we are a good unit out there and we're held accountable as anybody else would."