KANSAS CITY — Kansas City and Jackson County officials have spent federal money meant for investigating cold cases on other types of cases that didn't qualify for the funds, possibly putting the program in jeopardy, federal auditors said.
City and county authorities contend that they used the funds for cases they thought met the grants' criteria and that they didn't get a specific definition of what constitutes a cold case until after the audit, The Kansas City Star reported.
The U.S. Department of Justice released two audits Wednesday alleging that the city and county have spent, or plan to spend, more than $1.3 million in grant money to pursue cases that do not meet the criteria of three grants awarded since 2010.
The money was intended for researching violent cold cases closed between 1972 and 2005 for which investigators had kept biological evidence that could be tested for DNA. At least 34 percent of the cases reviewed by the prosecutor's office were ineligible because they were for crimes committed between 2006 and 2011, auditors said.
The audits involved a total of $920,353 awarded to the county in 2010 and 2012 and a 2011 grant to police for $452,293. The grants paid the salaries and benefits for three detectives, three cold-case analysts, an investigator and a paralegal.
Federal authorities said they could demand that the funds be repaid, and auditors said $415,829 in unspent funds from a current grant could be used for better purposes.
Prosecutors said the definition of cold case used in the grant contracts was any significant violent crime case "for which all significant leads have been exhausted." But auditors said that the definition "can be reasonably inferred" to mean crimes committed before suitable DNA technology existed.
"The auditors have unfairly created an entirely new definition, which is completely different from what we and other applicants relied upon," said Ted Hunt, Jackson County's chief trial attorney. "Now we're being punished for not following a nonexistent definition. It's fundamentally unfair."
Kansas City police officials say the audit definition would make 95 percent of the department's cases ineligible for the funds.
"We used the money to investigate cases we felt met the requirements of the grant," said department spokesman Capt. Tye Grant. "The goals we outlined in our application were to identify, review and prioritize violent-crime cold cases, and we did exactly that."
The cold-case collaboration between prosecutors and police helped resolve sex crime cases that lingered for decades in investigators' files, including dozens of old rape cases, prosecutors said. Hunt said his office had filed 34 criminal cases from the 2010 grant.
The National Institute of Justice, which awarded the grants, audited Jackson County's work two weeks before the Justice Department and found no fault with Jackson County, according to a letter National Institute of Justice officials sent to prosecutors. The institute was aware of the dates of the cases being worked in Kansas City, Hunt said.
"This is a complete injustice," Hunt said, adding that his office planned to appeal the audit's conclusions.