Pet Dumb

County cops ripped off kitties and doggies, auditors say

In late 2004 the Humane Society of the United States released a report condemning deplorable conditions at Miami-Dade County's animal shelter in Medley. Healthy creatures were being caged next to sick ones. Dogs were choking on short leashes. Shelter workers violently thrashed cats around. And many of the animals were sleeping in their own urine and feces.

It was so bad that Cerberus, Hades' three-headed watchdog, would probably have had a difficult time surviving a stay at the public kennel.

Now, an audit by Miami-Dade Inspector General Christopher Mazzella contends the county police department, which ran the shelter from 2001 through 2004, used $1.8 million from two trust funds created specifically for animal care to pay for unauthorized expenditures such as rental cars and a barbecue grill.

"Individuals who want to donate to an animal trust fund for the betterment of the animals need assurance that their contributions will be used in the direct assistance of animals and not to subsidize routine operational expenses," Mazzella said in the October 20 report.

Internal affairs officers and the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office are also investigating allegations of malfeasance in the animal services unit.

In 1982 the county commission set up an animal trust fund for donations from animal lovers who wanted to help build a new shelter to replace the decades-old one in Medley. Ten years later, after Hurricane Andrew sheared Miami-Dade, the county established another account for gifts from people who wanted to help animals displaced by storms. Several hundred individuals have donated money for the trust accounts. Commissioners agreed the funds would be used solely for purchasing items such as food and medicine for the shelter's critters — and paying for animal adoption services.

When the police department assumed control of the animal services division in 2001, the two trust funds had accumulated roughly $1.9 million. By March 2004 the cops had depleted 99.6 percent of the money. Seven months later, following the Humane Society's scathing inquiry, County Manager George Burgess created the county's animal services department.

According to Mazzella, the police department used $515,511 to cover budget and payroll shortages in the animal services division. That should have been paid for by county taxpayers. Another million dollars went for items unrelated to pet adoptions and animal control, the inspector general said. Of that, more than $140,000 in expenses were particularly questionable. That included $14,255 to rent two sport utility trucks for the police captain and the police lieutenant who ran the animal services division, $6918 in travel reimbursements, and $4123 for 23 Olympus digital cameras. In addition, the cops spent $8982 for a barbecue grill, picnic tables, benches, and landscaping at the shelter.

Mayor Carlos Alvarez, who signed off on the unauthorized expenditures during his tenure as the county police director, declined comment. But present director Robert Parker refuted the inspector general's findings. He said former animal services director Capt. Mark Jeter and his second in command, Lt. Scott Linder, needed the SUVs to accommodate large cages used to transport animals to community outreach events. The travel reimbursements paid for Jeter and Linder to attend out-of-state animal training courses, Parker explained, and the cameras were purchased to document cases of animal abuse and cruelty.

Although Mazzella recommended the police department repay the money, Parker asserts it won't: "All expenditures were made for the benefit, maintaining, or advancing animal control."

 
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