It's well known that Mendocino County gets truckloads of money from seizing stuff that belongs to drug criminals and alleged drug criminals--their cash, their quads, their Chevy trucks, their John Deere tractors, their 30 South African gold Krugerrands (yes, it really happened in Laytonville in 2005).
The county is so efficient in its asset-seizing endeavors that, according to the state Department of Justice's 2008 stats, Mendo is third in California in forfeiture-related disbursements, despite its tiny population. Only Los Angeles ($8.1 million) and San Bernadino ($3.5 million) counties made more. (Mendo made $1.4 mil.)
There are, of course, more than a few criticisms out there of how DA Meredith Lintott handles forfeitures, some of which have been noted by her opponents in the upcoming election (i.e., that seizures aren't tied to convictions and that the DA's forfeiture prosecutor is paid with forfeiture money).
Candidate David Eyster recently challenged Lintott on another front--first at the Willits pot forum last Friday, then in an interview with us--about how the DA issues funds from this flush forfeiture account to local non-profits involved in drug crime intervention. The gist of his complaint? The process for getting that money seems way too insiderish, if not invisible.
“There needs to be a well-publicized process in place for non-profits and others to apply for funding from the DA's asset forfeiture funds. Questions I continue to have are what is the process? Where do people get applications?" Eyster said. "Is there a ceiling on the money each application may receive? Is this ongoing funding or a one-time grant? Who reviews the applications and makes the final determination of merit? Is this a decision made by Meredith only? If not, who are the decision-makers? What are the criteria being considered? Every time I say there is no process currently available, Meredith insists otherwise but fails to outline the process.”
Lintott didn't call us back, so you won't hear any direct responses to Eyster's critique. (At last Friday's forum, she said there had been a "concern" about a lack of process under former DA Vroman, but that she changed all that once in office and had continued supporting local organizations).
Nevertheless, we called around to check in on Eyster's and Lintott's claims.
--Karin Wandrei, executive director of the Mendocino County Youth Project, said her organization has received about $20k from the DA's office three times. That money started under Vroman—when, Wandrei said, there wasn't a formal process to apply for funding—and continued under Lintott. Now, the organization fills out an application that shows how what they're doing is connected to drug and alcohol prevention.
--Laura Welter, executive director of Safe Passage, said that she knew the money was there and thought that her organization might be eligible, but hadn't ever applied. She had no idea what the application process was like.
--Jez Anderson, executive director of Big Brother & Big Sisters of Mendocino County, also said that she knew about the money and about the process involved in getting that money, but wouldn't provide details on whether or not they'd actually received funding because she hadn't been authorized by her board to speak to us.
--Staffers at the Anderson Valley Community Action Coalition had heard about the money but, like Welter, had no idea how to go about getting it.
Maybe, for starters, a downloadable application and a few specifics on the Great Big World Wide Web wouldn't hurt, Ms. District Attorney.