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Feds to Release N.H. Drug Forfeiture Cash

The Telegraph
Published: 3/28/2016 11:54:31 PM
Modified: 3/28/2016 11:55:13 PM

Nashua — The federal government announced Monday it will reinstate drug asset forfeiture money that pays for narcotics units in Nashua, Manchester and across New Hampshire following two months of intense pressure by law enforcers and the state’s political leaders.

“It’s great news,” Nashua Police Chief Andrew Lavoie said. “This is just a great example of everyone coming together. It’s really been a bipartisan issue and all of our local and federal politicians recognized how important this was to us.”

Nashua police have been waiting for the release of roughly $400,000 in forfeiture funds following a number of earlier significant drug seizures that were frozen when the U.S. Department of Justice suspended payments in late December to help balance the federal budget.

The move jeopardized narcotics units across the state and nation that rely on the program to fund their narcotics units, with the exception of officer salaries.

Police have said the program is invaluable to their drug-fighting efforts because it enables them to equip, train and outfit undercover narcotics investigation units without having to rely on local property taxes. It also funds drug prevention, intervention and awareness program in local schools.

“It’s a huge sigh of relief,” Manchester Police Chief Nick Willard said of the justice department’s decision to release the funds.

“That money is crucial for the Manchester Police Department to continue to conduct drug investigations without shifting the burden onto the taxpayers,” he added. “We are using the ill-gotten gains of criminals as opposed to using money from our taxpayers.”

The federal Asset Forfeiture Program is funded through the seizure of assets from drug traffickers. Assets range from cash to cars and houses that either were bought with the proceeds from criminal activities or used to further them. A portion of the money is distributed to local and state law enforcers who helped dismantle drug traffickers through their participating in task forces linked to federal agencies or through cases prosecuted at the federal level.

“Reinstating this program will restore a critical tool for our state and local law enforcement communities as they work to battle New Hampshire’s growing heroin and prescription opioid abuse epidemic and keep our state safe,” U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte said in a statement.

Ayotte, a Republican from Nashua, filed legislation last month to restore the funds.

U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen applauded the decision to free up the funds, saying police are stretched thin and need all the resources they can get to tackle the opioid crisis.

“It makes sense that assets seized in New Hampshire should go towards fighting crime in New Hampshire. Our officers are saving lives and putting dealers behind bars every day, and I’m very pleased these funds will once again aid them in their efforts,” Shaheen, a Democrat, said in a statement.

Gov. Maggie Hassan issued a statement saying she is “grateful that the federal government has reinstated this important program that helps local and state law enforcement seize illicit drugs and arrest drug dealers.”

Hassan and Ayotte each wrote U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch urging the federal government to restore the funds.

Lavoie said he doesn’t know how long it will take before his agency will see the funds it is owed.

He has said that his narcotics unit is funded through July 1.

Lavoie said he put a contingency plan in place should the funds not be released. To date, he said, no cuts have been made to programs.

Manchester police received a “substantial payout” just prior to the federal government freezing the program, Willard said. But the force is waiting for payments from other seizures pending that total “probably tens of thousands of dollars,” he added.

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