San Mateo Co. to pay Justice Dept. $1.5M

January 30, 2009 1:22:01 PM PST
The county of San Mateo has agreed to repay the U.S. Department of Justice more than $1.5 million it improperly received through a prosecution reimbursement program, federal authorities in San Francisco announced today.

San Mateo County becomes the fifth Northern California jurisdiction to settle with the Department of Justice for funds received through its Southwest Border Prosecution Initiative.

The program reimburses local agencies in four border states - California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas - for the costs of prosecuting and detaining defendants in cases initiated by federal law enforcement but are then taken over by local authorities.

In October, the city and county of San Francisco agreed to repay more than $5.2 million in Southwest Border Prosecution Initiative funds; in December, Lake County repaid about $989,000 and Humboldt County repaid about $417,000; and in January, San Benito County repaid about $398,000, the Department of Justice said.

The Department of Justice awarded San Mateo County the funds between 2004 and 2007 for 1,076 cases the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office claimed it was eligible for reimbursement, but a later audit found most of the cases did not meet the requirements because they were not federally initiated.

San Mateo County was only able to show that about $7,000 of the funds were properly received, the Department of Justice said.

A spokesman for the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office was not immediately available for comment.

The Department of Justice said all five Northern California jurisdictions were given "incorrect advice" on the prosecution initiative claim reimbursement process by a Sacramento-based consulting firm, Public Resource Management Group.

The firm was since acquired by the Florida-based MGT of America.

Brad Burgess, the consultant named by the Department of Justice as providing the counties with information on the program, said today that he was only one of many individuals involved in exploring the program.

"I do think I am being unfairly singled out," he said.

"In each of those cases, I sat down with a roomful of people from the various departments ... and we had very high-level people, we had attorneys, we had experts in law enforcement, all looking at those regulations together," Burgess said.

"So this was not my interpretation, that I imposed on all these people this particular methodology," he said.

The fault was with the program itself, which had vague guidelines, including uncertain application deadlines and appropriations, he said.

Agencies in all four border states have had problems, he said. "Nobody has successfully filed this program."

"It was a very strange program," Burgess said. "There was very little rhyme or reason."