JEFFERSON CITY - Vague wording in a state law is impeding the transfer of forfeited property funds from law enforcement to education, according to a report released Tuesday by State Auditor Claire McCaskill.
"Under current law, no school district receives a direct benefit from forfeited seizures," McCaskill writes in the audit report, which criticizes the state's Criminal Activity Forfeiture Act (CAFA).
Under the Act, which was passed by the legislature in 1994, any form of property that is used for criminal activity is subject to seizure by local law enforcement officials. Either the county prosecutor or the state attorney general must then file a petition in state court asking for forfeiture.
In 1998, the legislature enacted an additional section to the CAFA statute. Under this section, all money stemming from civil forfeitures is to be allocated to the School Building Revolving Fund, which is available to each of Missouri's 524 school districts.
The report found several inconsistencies in the CAFA statute, stating that the Act has "unclear, incomplete or restrictive requirements which need to be addressed." Among these are an imprecise definition of when a "seizure" actually occurs, restrictive time limits on reporting seizures to prosecutors, and conflicting federal and state jurisdictions.
These irregularities in the CAFA statute are, in effect, preventing the transmission of money from local law enforcement agencies to the School Building Fund. Of the $47 million worth of property seized in Missouri between 1996 and 1998, approximately $19 million went to local law enforcement agencies, instead of education.
It is now up to Gov. Mel Carnahan and the Missouri General Assembly to decide what, if any, action will be taken on the report's findings. At least one joint interim committee, which is chaired by Rep. Jim Kreider, D-Nixa, and Sen. Harry Wiggins, D-Kansas City, has been discussing the forfeiture matter for the last several months. Although the committee met Tuesday in St. Louis to begin discussing the report's findings, it was not immediately known what they plan on doing about the issue.