(Adds vote on House amendment, paragraph 4)
By Sarah N. Lynch
WASHINGTON, Sept 12 (Reuters) - The U.S. Marshals Service, the law enforcement arm of the federal judicial system, wastes money from a government asset forfeiture fund and spends it improperly, a senior U.S. senator charged on Tuesday.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, in a memo to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, said: “Evidence shows that the USMS wasted and misused money it received ... The agency also provided incomplete and in some cases misleading details about some of these expenditures.”
Sessions in recent months reinstated a civil asset forfeiture program that had been shut down by the Obama administration. The program has been expected to generate more money for law enforcement.
On Tuesday, the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives voted to add a series of amendments to a broader spending package that would restrict the Justice Department’s implementation of the civil asset forfeiture program.
Civil asset forfeiture gives police and other law enforcement agencies the power to seize cash and other assets from motorists or travelers at airports if they have “probable cause” to suspect the money is connected to a crime.
The owners of the property do not need to be convicted of a crime in order to justify the seizure.
Representatives for the Justice Department and Marshals Service said both agencies were reviewing Grassley’s letter.
Money collected from criminal and civil asset forfeitures goes into the Justice Department’s asset forfeiture fund and is used to pay for expenses for seizures and investigations. Proceeds are also shared with law enforcement agencies that contribute to the fund.
The USMS handles the seized property.
Grassley’s investigative staff looked at USMS expenditures for a planned relocation of its headquarters, use of the Texas-based Asset Forfeiture Academy to train employees and funding for certain employees and expenses.
Grassley said whistleblowers came forward to report that some positions funded by forfeited funds “are not fully dedicated” to the effort.
Whistleblowers also alleged in 2015 that a planned headquarters relocation plan entailed the construction of personal in-office bathrooms for senior leadership and unnecessary furniture.
After Grassley inquired, the USMS said in 2016 it planned to minimize excessive costs in part by reusing furniture. Since then, Grassley said whistleblowers reported that the furniture was discarded and that televisions were installed in offices of employees not permitted to use them.
Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Dan Grebler and Peter Cooney