Three Southeast-area police departments received early Christmas presents this week when the U. S. Customs Service dealt them a nearly $1-million share of cash seized in drug raids from January, 1984, to March, 1986.
Montebello received $460,698, Bell-Cudahy $431,209 and Huntington Park $43,120.
They were among 11 police agencies, along with the Los Angeles County district attorney's office, to receive $3.3 million in checks from customs officials for participating in federal narcotics investigations in which cash, drugs and weapons were seized.
Since the U. S. Treasury Department began its "equitable sharing" program in February, 1986, the program has distributed $9 million to cities in the region, Customs officials said.
"The whole idea behind the legislation that makes this happen is that the taxpayer can't really pay for these investigations to happen, so (federal agents) funnel the money back to the local law enforcement agencies," said Bell-Cudahy Sgt. William Talbot. "The dope dealers may as well finance their own demise, as far as I'm concerned."
"Saint Nick came to the City of Bell a little early this year," Bell-Cudahy Capt. Bill East said.
Montebello and Bell-Cudahy got money from the federal program last year, but this year's share is nearly twice as big. Officials say both departments' budgets will be boosted significantly. This year the Montebello Police Department has a $7-million budget; the Bell-Cudahy force has $3.6 million provided by the two cities it serves.
Bell-Cudahy, with a relatively small narcotics detail--two detectives out of a 45-officer department--has received $800,000 in equitable sharing funds over the last two years, Police Chief Frank Fording said.
Montebello, with seven of its 77 sworn officers on narcotics detail, received about $140,000 from a similar program sponsored by the U. S. Department of Justice but had received nothing from Customs until Monday, Police Chief Les Sourisseau said.
Huntington Park Capt. Martin Seminoff said his department received $14,791 from the same Justice Department program this month but got only a few thousand dollars from customs until this week.
The bulk of Bell-Cudahy's award is a $389,229-share from a raid in August, 1986, that netted 11 suspects in a money-laundering scheme along with $950,000 in cash and a kilogram of cocaine, according to U. S. Customs spokesman John Miller.
In 1986, Customs gave Bell-Cudahy $224,000 for its officers' key role in a four-month investigation that culminated in 35 arrests and the seizure of 60 pounds of cocaine, $300,000 in cash, $80,000 in jewelry and 15 automobiles.
Fording said he was not sure how his department would spend the money. Spending restrictions stipulate that it cannot be used for routine expenses. Two weeks ago, the Bell City Council appointed a five-member task force, including Fording and the city finance director, to draft suggestions.
Bell-Cudahy police used the 1986 award to buy a $250,000 computer system to replace its manual record-keeping system.
"It's an outstanding record of narcotics investigations for a department that does not have many narcotics detectives," Customs spokesman Mike Fleming said of Bell-Cudahy police.
Montebello received $376,500 of its total this year by providing surveillance support in a money-laundering investigation that turned up two duffel bags containing $1,255,000 in cash and several handguns.
Sourisseau said Montebello's award will be deposited in an interest-bearing trust account the department has set up for equitable sharing money. "We will use the interest to support ongoing law enforcement services. . . . As (the interest) grows, it will have a direct impact on our law enforcement," he said.
Seminoff said the Huntington Park department was given the bulk of its equitable sharing money for participating in the same money-laundering case that Bell-Cudahy handled. He said officials have not determined how they will use the funds.