The Montgomery County district attorney has spent thousands of dollars in assets seized from criminals on items that have little to do with official prosecutorial duties, including liquor for parties. Meanwhile, Rockwall County D.A. Ray Sumrow was sentenced to four years in prison earlier this month for embezzling public funds, including using fees paid by convicted hot-check writers for an airline ticket for his girlfriend and other personal expenses.

Texas law enforcement officers seize millions of dollars in contraband and cash from drug dealers and other criminals. Half goes to law enforcement to cover expenses like police cars, while the other half goes to the district attorney in the county where the assets were recovered. Most district attorneys are honest and use some of this money to supplement prosecutors’ salaries.

Current state law gives wide discretion to district attorneys in how to spend these funds. Fortunately, the Senate Criminal Justice Committee will hold a hearing this spring on whether (and how) to strengthen the law.

Policymakers should demand a full accounting of how these forfeiture funds are spent. They should also consider allocating some of that money to the State Crime Victims Compensation Fund, which pays restitution to violent crime victims when offenders do not and is rapidly becoming insolvent. The illegal proceeds of criminal activity should be used for law enforcement, actual prosecutorial costs, and making crime victims whole, not as a slush fund for entertainment and self-aggrandizement.

– Marc Levin