• Justice Department spending money on expensive food, conferences

    By: Scott MacFarlane


    WASHINGTON - Congressional leaders are taking aim at the U.S. Department of Justice for squandering tax money.

    Channel 2's Scott MacFarlane was at the U.S. House Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday where questionable purchases came to light, so MacFarlane started looking into them more.

    He found reports showing federal police grant money was spent on a $10,000 pizza party by Connecticut police.

    Another $600,000 was spent for event planners to organize five Justice Department conferences, most either in Washington, D.C., or California.

    Republicans in both the U.S. House and Senate said the agency hasn't kept a close enough eye on the tax dollars it distributes, even with those popular police grants that help pay for local cops and bulletproof vests.

    "Local police departments, in your state and elsewhere, like this federal money," MacFarlane said to Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla.

    "Oh, everybody likes money. You know anybody who doesn't?" Coburn responded.

    The committee used Justice Department audits to show cash was squandered on overpriced food and drinks at recent agency conferences.

    Those expenses include coffee that cost $12 a cup and soda costing nearly $6 a serving.

    Judiciary committee Republicans reported $11 million was spent to fly the attorney general and the FBI director on private flights between 2007 and 2011. A committee report said nearly a quarter of the flights were personal flights for the attorney general.

    Democrats and the Justice Department pounced saying the agency had no choice.

    "Can the AG fly commercial if he wanted to?" Rep. Cedric Richmond asked a Justice Department official during Wednesday's hearing.

    "The AG is supposed to fly on secure means of transportation and that's in accordance with a government-wide policy," assistant attorney general Lee Lofthus answered.

    The Justice Department did not answer questions about the overpriced food and drinks, but did say the department has already been cutting back significantly on conferences, spending $26 million less in 2011 than it did a year earlier.

    After Wednesday’s hearing, a spokeswoman for the Department of Justice sent MacFarlane a statement saying, "In June 2012, the Department issued a new, more restrictive policy on conference spending; among other things, the new policy generally prohibited the funding of refreshments.”

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