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Mon December 17, 2012
Bal Harbour Chief Suspended As Cash-Cow 'Task Force' Comes Under Federal Scrutiny
Bal Harbour Police Chief Thomas Hunker remains suspended with pay today in connection with his department's far-ranging anti-drug operations that yielded no prosecutions but kept his officers flush with ready cash.
Hunker is accused of professional misconduct in a Justice Department review of the department project that sent Bal Harbour officers all over the country to pose as money launderers for drug gangs. The department operated under rules that allowed it to keep up to 80 percent of the cash after turning the rest over to the Justice department.
According to a Miami Herald investigation, millions of dollars rolled into the department's accounts and it was spent freely on meals, trips and electronic gadgets.
The Justice Department has frozen $8 million of the confiscated money and is demanding that Bal Harbor return $4 million.
As Daniel Chang writes in the Herald, the department's drug-laundering mission had nothing to do with fighting crime in the village of Bal Harbour and it led to no criminal prosecutions.
Bal Harbour's force became a massive cash generator after Hunker broke from the federally sponsored South Florida Money Laundering Strike Force and partnered with the Glades County Sheriff’s Office in Central Florida to form the independent Tri-County Task Force, which included police officers contracted out of retirement and based in New York, Southern California and Florida’s West Coast.
In the first year of the task force’s operations, Bal Harbour increased its share of federal payouts from drug seizures fourfold over the previous year: from $240,689 in 2008 to more than $1 million in 2009.
By 2011, Bal Harbour police helped reel in $5.1 million — more any other law enforcement agency in Florida.
Chief Hunker is already under investigation because of unrelated allegations that he used his influence improperly. In one case, he's suspected of receiving favorable terms on a new car for his wife after buying several department vehicles from the same dealership.