Federal Complaint Filed Over Misuse of Funds Used for Furniture, Office Upgrades
RIVERSIDE — The Riverside Sheriff’s Department recently hit the jackpot in office improvements.
It got $2.7 million for furniture and other office renovations, another $1.3 million to upgrade its key card/video camera systems, and another $660,000 to bulletproof its windows.
But the money, allocated by the Riverside County Board of Supervisors, came from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act that is supposed to provide funds for programs specifically addressing the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, in Riverside County, CARES funding is a boondoggle for a sheriff department’s office makeover.
Today, three organizations — the ACLU Foundation of Southern California, Riverside All of Us or None, and Starting Over Inc. — filed complaints with federal officials asking them to exercise their oversight authority and recover the CARES Act funds allocated to the sheriff’s department so they can be reallocated to services and programs specifically related to the pandemic.
The complaints were submitted to the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Office of Inspector General, the Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery, and the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee. The CARES Act assigns these offices oversight responsibility to prevent misuse of funds.
“CARES Act funds are intended to support community members struggling with the economic and health impacts of the pandemic,” said ACLU SoCal Senior Staff Attorney Adrienna Wong. “Redirecting those funds to pad law enforcement budgets hampers recovery efforts, disregards the suffering in our communities and, in this case, violates the law.”
The letter points out that the landmark CARES Act — signed into law on March 27, 2020 — specifies that its funding be used only for “necessary expenditures incurred due to the public health emergency.” Furthermore, the law states that its funding is only for expenditures “incurred “during the period that begins on March 1, 2020, and ends on December 31, 2021” that are “substantially different” from previously-expected expenses.
The CARES Act funding allocated to the Riverside Sheriff’s Department by the county board falls far short of these requirements.
“The projects proposed by the sheriff’s department have nothing to do with COVID-19 and the harm it has caused in our communities,” said Shaun LeFlore, an organizer with Riverside All of Us or None. “This funding could go to any number of departments and projects to meaningfully address COVID-19 in our communities, especially among incarcerated people and frontline workers.”
The funds were allocated to the sheriff’s department for three projects, none of which are legitimate CARES expenditures;
- $2,705,867 for office renovations, including upgrades to lighting, flooring, cabinets, and office furniture. As the complaint points out, “replacing office lighting has no impact on the spread of the disease within the office,” and “replacing floors, furniture, and plumbing is similarly unrelated to public health.” It further states that these type of renovations have been routinely funded by the county in the past, further demonstrating that they are not specifically related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- $1,303,420.01 for upgrading key card and video camera systems at department facilities. The complaint points out that the updates “are not necessary to improve public health or lessen the impact of the pandemic.” Furthermore, the upgrades were already accounted for in the county budget prior to the CARES Act.
- $669,005 to add bulletproof gazing to department windows. As the complaint states, the “glazing does nothing to reduce the spread of disease or support companies or individuals that suffered from business interruptions.”
Community organizations have proposed several alternative uses of the CARES funding that would be in accord with the act. These include livable wages for essential workers, healthcare services for Riverside County’s unhoused residents, and vaccine education for the county’s incarcerated population.
The complaint asks the federal oversight bodies to “recover these funds from Riverside County so that they may be reallocated to programs and services that respond to the public health emergency caused by COVID-19.”