LAWRENCEVILLE, Ga. - Talk about a sweet ride. The Gwinnett County sheriff just bought a $70,000 performance car that will be used primarily to get him back and forth to the office.
Would you call that extravagant?
The money comes from funds seized in federal drug cases. According to the U.S. Justice Department, last year across the country law enforcement seized $1.6 billion in money and property from suspected drug dealers. Police are allowed to spend that money on things that legitimately protect the public. And the Gwinnett County Sheriff's department insists a 2018 Dodge Charger Hellcat does exactly that.
It's certainly built for power and speed: 707 horse power, 6.2 liter supercharged V-8 engine. Top speed -- should you choose to risk it -- 200 miles per hour.
"We're really excited that we have this vehicle that's going to be a great attraction for the audience we're trying to reach," insisted Shannon Volkodav, spokesperson for the sheriff who chose not to comment on his new car.
The Gwinnett County Sheriff's Department says the car has a dual purpose: get the boss back and forth to work, and serve as a draw for a local charity -- the Beat the Heat program -- where young people are warned about the dangers of distracted driving and drag racing. Drivers get a chance to race officers in a "safe, controlled environment."
"So how is the sheriff going to use this car?" I asked. "Is he going to race kids in it?"
"Well, there are times that the Beat the Heat team is on the race track and this car of course is going to be great for that," replied Volkodav.
The Hellcat costs $69,280. That money came from federal drug forfeitures. Gwinnett taxpayers covered the $3300 to add hidden lights and sirens.
The Justice Department would not comment specifically on whether the Hellcat was an allowed purchase. In broad terms, federal drug money cannot be used to buy anything that's "extravagant." So the question -- does a $70,000 high performance car fit that definition?
"I hesitate to use the word extravagant," responded Volkodav. "We feel like we're going to be able to use this vehicle to help save lives."
However, no one suggested that purpose when the sheriff's department sent a memo to Gwinnett County explaining why it needed the car. In a February, 2018 memo from Sheriff Conway to Gwinnett County Administrator Glenn Stephens, there was no mention of the car being assigned to him... or any planned use for the Beat the Heat program... or even that it was the more expensive Hellcat. The sheriff only said it would be a Dodge Charger used in "undercover/covert operations."
It's unclear how such a vehicle could be used to publicly promote driver safety, while at the same time be helpful for undercover investigations.
"Is there any concern in the department that it doesn't look good?" I asked the sheriff's spokesperson.
"I think anyone who knows sheriff Conway understands that he's very fiscally responsible," Volkodav answered.
Over the years the sheriff has returned tax dollars to the general fund that his department did not need. He has driven Dodge Chargers in the past as his assigned vehicle, but never one as pricey -- or as powerful -- as the Hellcat.