Narcotics task force audit is finished


County auditors have finished a 16-month review of the Carroll County Narcotics Task Force's finances, county commissioners said yesterday.

The commissioners have not reviewed the final, 36-page document, but Commissioner Elmer C. Lippy said a recent draft report he read showed no financial improprieties.

"We found no evidence of wrongdoing. The whole kit-and-caboodle got a clean bill of health," he said.

The commissioners said they probably will not review the document until Aug. 11 at their next meeting with Timothy D. Hartman, administrator of the Office of Performance Auditing.

The three commissioners are scheduled to attend a Maryland Association of Counties conference in Ocean City at the end of this week. Commissioners Donald I. Dell and Julia W. Gouge are scheduled to attend a National Association of Counties conference in Nevada the next week.

Mr. Hartman would not comment yesterday on the content of the audit.

The commissioners ordered an audit of the task force books last year. The task force is a joint drug-enforcement effort among the state's attorney's office, sheriff's department, Maryland State Police and Westminster City Police. The group has five members and is about 4 years old. Its books had never been audited.

The auditing process took longer than expected and generated TTC suspicion and turmoil among the parties.

"The big crime isn't the amount of time it took," Mr. Lippy said. "It was the attitude of all four factions that made it difficult to deal with each other."

Mr. Hartman said the audit dragged on because the task force was reluctant to divulge information.

"A lot of time was spent on them [the task force] deciding whether they wanted to give us information or not," Mr. Hartman said.

State's Attorney Thomas E. Hickman said he and other officials involved with the task force gave all the group's books to the auditors in May 1993. He said the task force did not give confidential information about informants or other matters.

"I'm glad to hear they are wrapping it up," he said yesterday. "I'm anxious to see why it took" so long.

The end of the audit does not mean the controversy is over, however. The county and city are in the midst of negotiating a new agreement about how the task force will operate.

Westminster has threatened to pull out of the group if the county does not allow the city to share in the proceeds from the sale of goods seized during drug raids.

To this point, the city has received half of the proceeds because City Police Chief Sam R. Leppo was responsible for keeping track of the drug group's finances and storing evidence and seized property. The task force received the other half of the proceeds. The group takes in $15,000 to $20,000 per year.

But last month, Chief Leppo said the audit had created too much extra work for him. He said he no longer would handle the storage and record-keeping duties. As a result, Mr. Dell said the city should not receive any of the proceeds.

The sheriff's department probably will take over Chief Leppo's duties.

Mr. Dell said the commissioners will ask the Westminster City Council, the state's attorney and others involved in the task force to meet to discuss a new agreement.

Mr. Hickman said a meeting would be "a good step forward." He talked with City Council members at their meeting Monday and said he wished Mr. Dell, who has been involved in the negotiations for the commissioners, had attended.

But Mr. Dell said County Attorney Charles W. Thompson Jr. advised him it would not be the best forum to discuss the issues.

The mayor and council members said they did not know Mr. Hickman was going to attend the meeting. The issue was not on the agenda.

Council President Kenneth A. Yowan said yesterday that it's hard to know what motivates the people involved because so many of them are running for office.

"I just see politics getting too close to this," he said. "I'm not sure much will be accomplished before the November election."

Mr. Dell, Mr. Lippy and Mr. Hickman are running for re-election. Mayor W. Benjamin Brown is running for county commissioner. If Mr. Brown is elected, Mr. Yowan would become mayor.

Mr. Dell said the county should keep all task force proceeds in an account that the task force could tap for expenses.

But Mr. Yowan said he would not agree to commissioners approving every expense because it would bring politics into the process.

"I think some people want to have their hands in it too much," he said.

Before the council makes any decisions, however, it will have to read the audit report, Mr. Yowan said.

Mr. Hickman has suggested that the city get 25 percent of task force proceeds.

Mr. Lippy and Mrs. Gouge said yesterday that they do not support that. They said task force money should be kept in an account controlled by the county budget or finance office. Money for expenses could be dispersed by a county employee not directly involved with the drug task force, they said.

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