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ACLU SoCal Accuses Riverside County Sheriff of Misspending CARES Act Funds

Riverside County Sheriff patrol vehicle at the 2014 Miramar Air Show.
Tomás Del Coro
Flickr Creative Commons
Riverside County Sheriff patrol vehicle at the 2014 Miramar Air Show.

The ACLU of Southern California has filed a complaint against Riverside County, claiming they misspent CARES Act funds. The non-profit alleges the county misspent more than $4.6 Million in coronavirus relief funds on furniture, cameras, bulletproof windows, and door keypads for the County Sheriff’s department.

The organization submitted the complaint on July 30th, along with two other Inland Empire nonprofit organizations. They sent the complaint to the Treasury Department Inspector General.

Adrienna Wong is a Senior Staff Attorney for ACLU SoCal. She says the federal government was clear about how CARES Act money was supposed to be allocated. She says, "The funds have to be used for necessary expenditures, for responding to the pandemic. And the second is that the expenses have to be substantially different than uses that were expected or budgeted for prior to the pandemic.”

Wong says those Riverside County expenses violate both of those rules. Before the broadcast of this story, the Sheriff’s office didn’t return multiple requests for comment. Still, Riverside Sheriff Chad Bianco told the Riverside Press-Enterprise that, “Three completely anti-law enforcement [and particularly] anti-Sherriff Department organizations have made more frivolous complaints and are counting on anti-law enforcement media to fuel their demands for social justice.” He told the paper the county-operated within federal government guidelines when distributing the funds.

After publication, I received an emailed response from Sergeant Albert Martinez, which appeared to be the same written statement that the Press-Enterprised had received.

Response from Sergeant Albert Martinez concerning Sheriff Chad Bianco's reaction to the complaint filed by the ACLU of Southern California.

Reacting to the Sheriff's response, Wong says the ACLU stands by its complaint stating, “You know I think that the Sheriff has resorted to demagoguery, which really shows that he has nothing substantive to say.”

Rich Delmar is the acting Inspector General at the U.S. Department of Treasury. He says they had received and were evaluating the complaint. If funds were misused, the department would ask Riverside to refund the $4.6 million in funds.

Jonathan Linden was a reporter at 91.9 KVCR in San Bernardino, California. He joined KVCR in July 2021 and served with the station till October 2022.