Monday April 30, 2012

WORCESTER (AP) -- District Attorney Joseph D. Early Jr. has spent tens of thousands of dollars from a law enforcement fund to buy sports uniforms, spread sand and grass seed on baseball diamonds and for other sports-related work at a Worcester elementary school in a wealthy neighborhood, a newspaper reported Sunday.

Money was given without a formal application process used by other district attorneys and some contractors were political donors to Early, the Telegram & Gazette reported, citing documents it obtained under the state Public Records Law.

Early said spending public money on youth sports is a proven crime-fighting tool that helps reduce juvenile delinquency. Supervised after-school activities are part of his efforts to cut crime, he said.

"It’s about giving kids opportunity. It’s about prevention, prevention, prevention," Early told the newspaper. "I can’t think of a better use of these funds."

Records show Early has given at least $206,000 to athletic teams over the last two years.

In at least two cases, the contractors performing the work were political contributors to Early’s campaigns.

Money seized from alleged drug dealers is split evenly between the police department that confiscated the money and the district attorney’s office that handled the civil forfeiture proceeding. State law requires that most of the money must be spent on investigations and law enforcement operations, but allows district attorneys leeway to spend up to 10 percent of their share on rehabilitation, drug education and other anti-drug or neighborhood crime watch programs that further law enforcement purposes.

Critics say giving money to teams and leagues, including some in middle class neighborhoods, is not an effective anti-drug strategy.

Pam Wilmot, executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts, a nonpartisan watchdog group, said the money belongs to the state and "needs to have protections attached."