This year has brought in a record amount of county drug forfeiture money, Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli announced Wednesday.
More than $283,000 in cash and property was seized from drug dealers between July of 2010 and June of 2011, the fiscal year for forfeiture operations, Morganelli told reporters at a news conference at his office in Easton.
That's up from $68, 491 in 2008-09 and $90,000 in 2009-10.
The bulk of the money comes from busts in the cities of Easton and Bethlehem. Morganelli attributed the increase to the culmination of some real estate sales, as well as an increase in forfeitures.
About $150,000 was cash seized from drug dealers, and the remaining $133,000 was in sales from seized real estate. Seized vehicles are either auctioned or kept for police use.
Forfeiture funds are earmarked for the war on drugs and the money is used to purchase police equipment, fund controlled undercover buys, and fund training and education programs, Morganelli said. The money also pays the salary of an assistant DA.
“By statue the assets...can be used to fight the war on drugs,” he said. “This is a record year for the Northampton County task force, and the credit goes to Bethlehem and Easton.”
The cities each received $10,000 of the funds.
Easton, who received its check about two weeks ago, has earmarked the funds for purchasing equipment for their newly re-formed special response unit, while Bethlehem will set the funds aside for their K9 program.
In attendance, from the Easton Police Department were Captain Michael Vangelo and Lt. John Ramaly, and from the City of Bethlehem were Mayor John Callahan, Police Commissioner Jason Schiffer and Lt. David Kravitz.
Morganelli said working closely with both departments has made the difference.
“What we're really talking about is gang issues,” he said. “The primary reason we see these issues is drugs.”
He said continued police efforts and busts have led to successes.
“The Latin Kings gang is pretty much out of business in Bethlehem,” Morganelli said. “There's always remnants, but they're essentially done.”
Callahan said the forfeiture fund increase is an indication of good cooperation between the cities and the DA's office, noting that the quality of evidence police have been providing has helped settle cases with dealers “doing real time.”
He added that the city is always struggling with resources, so the funds are always welcome.
Currently, the Bethlehem Police Department has been looking to fund their K9 unit, and the money from the forfeitures, along with what the city has received in private donations will make it possible, Callahan said.
“This will not only allow us to purchase (a new) dog, but it will fund the K9 unit for years to come,” he said.
Vangelo said the funds the Easton Police Department received will purchase additional protective gear for the department's special response team, which has recently received certification to serve mid-level warrants.
“This money will help us with the added ballistic protection, and hopefully add members to the team,” Vangelo said. “Without this money, we couldn't do that. We're glad for the additional protection.”
The EPD task force not only works in the city, but is available to give assistance to neighboring police departments.
“The task force is especially important because as we make arrests, (drug dealing) gets pushed out into the townships,” he said.
He too credited cooperation between the DA's office and other police departments.
“All the county vice and detectives need to keep working together,” Vangelo said. “We just hope the forfeitures keep coming in.”
What the DA's office will do with the remainder of the funds has not yet been decided.
“Any police department in the county can make requests,” Morganelli said. “I expect after this story, we'll get more requests.”
The amount, however, may be enough for the DA's office to lift its moratorium on drug education funding, and it may establish a new website where the public can leave tips about criminal activity in their neighborhoods, he said.
Whether the increased amount is an indication of increased drug use and dealing in the two cities, or just more effective enforcement, officials couldn't say. But ultimately, the increased amount netted in forfeitures is a good thing.
“I think it's a positive. We wish we didn't have them, but the...dealers are making money whether we do this or not,” Vangelo said.