A Worcester, Mass., district attorney who has spent over $260,000 in the last three years on youth sports programming in his community using public money from a law enforcement fund has come under fire for the practice.
District Attorney Joseph D. Early, Jr. has used some of the "forfeited funds" on scholarships, equipment, uniforms, youth sports facility improvements and to "repave a basketball court at an elementary school in one of the city's wealthiest neighborhoods," according to the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.
In Massachusetts, money seized from alleged drug dealers is split evenly between the police department that confiscated it and the district attorney's office that handled the civil forfeiture proceeding in court. State law requires that most of the money must be spent on investigations and law enforcement operations, but allows district attorneys the leeway to spend up to 10 percent of their share of forfeited funds on “drug rehabilitation, drug education and other anti-drug or neighborhood crime watch programs which further law enforcement purposes.”
Worcester District Attorney's office accounting records obtained by the Telegram & Gazette under the state Public Records Law show Mr. Early's largesse is often not directly related to anti-drug efforts, does not exclusively target at-risk kids, and last year was more than triple the amount allowed by law. In addition, the money is doled out haphazardly without any formal application process as employed by other district attorneys.
In two cases contractors who were contributors to Mr. Early's political campaign received non-competitive contracts for work. One of the contractors sponsors a baseball team in a youth baseball league in which Mr. Early’s wife serves as member of the board of directors. Perhaps unavoidable in a small community, but the lack of oversight is causing some concern:
While youth sports may be a worthy cause, critics note that simply spreading money across scores of teams and leagues, including some in solidly middle class neighborhoods, does not constitute a coherent, effective anti-drug strategy and that the seized money at issue is not a pot of cash for Mr. Early to spend at his whim.
Mr. Early sees no problem:
In an interview, Mr. Early defended his spending of public money on youth sports, in amounts that have increased dramatically in each of the last three years, as a proven crime-fighting strategy that has resulted in falling rates of juvenile delinquency. He said giving children something to do after school under the supervision of responsible adults is a core part of his crime prevention efforts.
“It's about giving kids opportunity. It's about prevention, prevention, prevention,” Mr. Early said, later adding, “I can't think of a better use of these funds.”