Legislative review finds Highway Patrol spent money earmarked for equipment on furniture

RALEIGH, NC (WBTV) - A legislative review of money spent by the North Carolina Highway Patrol on furniture in 2017 found the patrol purchased nearly $57,000 worth of furniture for the commander's office and other personnel at the NCSHP headquarters, according to documents obtained by WBTV.

The review also found the NCSHP used an excess amount of asset forfeiture funds to purchase furniture than it had requested from the North Carolina General Assembly.

The asset forfeiture money used to purchase the furniture came from funds earmarked for equipment and tuition repayment for troopers, records show. It is not clear whether furniture is considered 'equipment' for the purpose of the budget line-item.

Both WBTV and some state lawmakers in Raleigh began investigating NCSHP's purchase of furniture last year after a retired state trooper claimed the patrol had used money earmarked to purchase equipment for the NCSHP Rapid Response Team to purchase furniture instead. The equipment, the retired trooper claimed, was supposed to have been purchased using seized asset funds provided to the patrol through a program administered by the federal government.

A review of the patrol's furniture expenditures in 2017 found NCSHP leadership used some money earmarked for RRT equipment to purchase furniture.

According to the legislative analysis, "a total of $618,790 was approved for purchases for the SHP."

While some of the money spent on furniture by the NCSHP went to field offices and training classrooms, the legislative analysis found $56,815 was used to purchase furniture for NCSHP leadership offices, including the office of NCSHP commander Colonel Glenn McNeill.

Of the total amount of money spent on furniture by NCSHP last year, the legislative analysis found $167,000 was from seized asset funds.

"The SHP sent a report to Oversight in February about the expenditure of $100,000 from seized assets for furniture," the analysis said. "It does not indicate a swap of funds previously requested for RRT equipment."

When asked about the decision to use seized asset funds to purchase furniture, NCSHP commander McNeill said the money only went to replace worn classroom furniture.

"When we have a classroom that seats 70-80 people and because all of – I won't say all – but more than 70% of the chairs are broken and we can't utilize the classroom and we have to rely upon Wake Tech to allow us to have office space in their office, we utilize asset forfeiture funding for that," McNeill said.

When pressed further why the patrol did not seek legislative approval to spend the full amount of seized assets funds to purchase furniture, McNeill pushed back.

"That is not correct," he said. "When we utilize asset forfeiture, the appropriate approval process is GovOps," referring to a legislative committee.

WBTV's scrutiny of McNeill's decision to use seized asset funds to purchase furniture comes at the same time as our investigation into his decision to  exempt a small group of senior NCSHP leadership from the patrol's residency policy. Our investigation found senior patrol leaders living on one side of the state and using their patrol-issued vehicle to drive to their offices on the other side of the state.

Senator Shirley Randleman (R-Wilkes), who co-chairs the Joint Oversight Committee on Justice and Public Safety as well as the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee for Justice and Public Safety, has vowed to look into the decision to exempt some senior leaders from the residency policy.

Copyright 2018 WBTV. All rights reserved.