Audit Chides Gloucester County Prosecutor Over Spending The Report Said The Office Violated Its Own Policies. ``i Welcome The Audit,'' Prosecutor Andrew Yurick Said.

Posted: October 10, 1998

WOODBURY — An audit announced yesterday by the state Attorney General's Office criticized the Gloucester County Prosecutor's Office for the aggressive manner in which it has spent more than $648,000 in forfeiture funds since Andrew N. Yurick took over as prosecutor 21 months ago.

The audit did not say the funds were misspent but indicated that Yurick could have been more prudent in ``prioritizing law-enforcement needs.''

Yurick's spending - on items ranging from bulletproof raincoats to high-tech weapons - has been criticized by county and state officials, including State Sen. Raymond J. Zane (D., Gloucester).

Attorney General Peter Verniero said the audit was the third in a series examining prosecutors' offices throughout the state. Earlier audits examined Essex and Sussex Counties.

``I am a firm believer in the value of audits'' to maintain public confidence and ``enhance law-enforcement operations,'' said Verniero, who added that he had privately discussed the 21-page audit with Yurick. ``I have confidence in his ability to undertake these reforms.''

The audit in Gloucester County took about six months to compile. It focused on administrative and fiscal operations from Jan. 1, 1992, through Dec. 31, 1997, but was most critical of operations since January 1997, when Yurick assumed command.

``I don't pretend to have all the answers. I welcome the audit; in fact, I even suggested it,'' Yurick said. ``Many of the changes that were recommended have already been instituted . . . and I was pleased that the attorney general saw fit to acknowledge our war against drugs in the audit.''

The audit, conducted by the operations bureau of the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice, found that the Prosecutor's Office had violated its own administrative policies, failed to coordinate renovations with county government, failed to reimburse the county for proper expenses, and violated state law by using a stun gun without authorization during a seminar.

The audit also criticized the Prosecutor's Office for its lack of accountability for controlled dangerous substances captured as evidence, careless maintenance of test samples, absence of inventory controls for items purchased with forfeiture funds, and failure to properly credit interest revenue on forfeiture funds to municipalities. Forfeiture funds come from cash seized from people charged with drug offenses and other crimes.

Last June, Zane said he was concerned about the spending patterns of Yurick, ``a man who wasn't elected to office.'' Yesterday, Zane said that Verniero's points were well-taken and that he hoped Yurick would heed them.

The audit was critical of a seminar - ``Lethal Threat Management for Law Enforcement'' - the Prosecutor's Office hosted last April. The audit said the seminar cost $13,000 in forfeiture funds, including $789 for first-class airfare of an instructor, even though office policy requires the use of economy-priced tickets.

Yurick acknowledged the expense and said: ``That was wrong. First-class airfare tickets should never be purchased unless it is an emergency.''

During the seminar, a 120,000-volt stun gun was used in demonstrations even though possession of such a weapon is prohibited by state law. Since no authorization was obtained from the attorney general, the possession and use of a stun gun during this course were inappropriate, the audit said.

``I've been an attorney for 20 years and I wasn't aware of this thing about stun guns,'' Yurick said. ``The next time, we'll send him [Verniero] a letter . . . and get the proper permission.''

The audit criticized the Prosecutor's Office for undergoing renovations without first consulting the county Building and Grounds Department. The report said the Prosecutor's Office spent $56,620.59 of forfeiture funds for renovations but caused problems with the county's heating, air-conditioning, electrical and sprinkler systems. The failure to coordinate such renovations was ``improper,'' the report said.

``The renovations also resulted in these systems failing to comply with building codes,'' the audit stated, and ``the county was forced to incur an additional $1,281.12 . . . to bring the electrical system into compliance.''

Stephen M. Sweeney, director of the Gloucester County Board of Chosen Freeholders, said he was surprised by the audit's length and troubled by a number of points. Sweeney said he wanted to talk about it with Yurick before commenting.

The audit noted that the Prosecutor's Office has refused to reimburse the county the $1,281.12. Yesterday, Yurick said he would reimburse the county, providing it shows him that it is due the money.

``I should have contacted the Building and Grounds people, that's true,'' Yurick said. ``I'm just not used to peeling through bureaucratic layers to get things done.''

The report also criticized the Prosecutor's Office for not establishing a system for investigators who use an evidence locker for controlled substances and ordered Yurick to establish a method of accountability. In a random review of narcotics evidence, the report said 11 samples were not properly logged, one item was located in an incorrect box, and another item was mislabeled.

The audit noted that the office collected about $450,000 in forfeiture funds under then-Prosecutor Harris Y. Cotton from 1993 to 1996. In 1997 alone, Yurick's first year as prosecutor, the office collected more than $450,000 in forfeiture funds.

``Because of the substantial increase in these expenditures, it is recommended that the prosecutor's office review and develop a system to prioritize the law-enforcement needs of the office,'' the audit urged.

It noted that a recent request for the purchase of five cameras for $5,300 was denied because forfeiture money was not available, though the Prosecutor's Office had spent more than $190,000 of such funds in the first quarter. The audit noted that the existing cameras were more than 10 years old and that the crime unit takes more than 32,000 photographs annually. New cameras should have been made a high priority, the report suggested.

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