Pa. AG’s chief of staff drives seized Mercedes, despite law restricting use
HARRISBURG — Attorney General Kathleen Kane’s acting chief of staff drives a Mercedes-Benz seized in a drug deal, and Pennsylvania taxpayers spent about $6,000 on its repairs, Kane’s spokesman confirmed Tuesday.
Making repairs to enable Jonathan Duecker to drive the Mercedes as his state vehicle “actually results in a cost savings” to taxpayers “compared to leasing a car for $400 a month” from the Department of General Services fleet, spokesman Chuck Ardo said.
Duecker, former head of the agency’s Bureau of Narcotics Investigation, became Kane’s acting chief in April. He has driven the 2006 Mercedes R-350, a sport utility vehicle, for more than a year, Ardo said.
Duecker was unavailable for interviews.
A state law restricts use of vehicles seized in drug cases to use in drug investigations, according to the Controlled Substances Forfeiture Act.
The bureau uses 52 seized vehicles worth a combined $456,187, records show. Only a few high-end cars are among them, including two Cadillacs and the Mercedes-Benz that Duecker drives.
The Mercedes’ value is listed as $13,000 in records showing vehicles seized and used by the narcotics bureau.
Steven Wheeler, who headed the bureau under former Attorney General Tom Corbett, said “most high-end vehicles are sold at auction” because “repairs are very expensive.” Vehicles the bureau keeps “are used by agents on the street,” he said.
The law says district attorneys and the attorney general “shall utilize forfeited property or proceeds thereof for the purposes of enforcing the (forfeiture) act.” It allows exceptions in certain cases for “community-based drug and crime-fighting programs and relocation” of protected witnesses.
The law allows the sale of assets if the proceeds are used for drug cases.
Asked why Duecker still drives the drug bureau’s Mercedes, Ardo said: “Although Mr. Duecker is acting as chief of staff, he is still intimately involved with narcotics investigations throughout the commonwealth and, therefore, qualifies for use of the automobile in question.”
Duecker, 51, is paid $140,400 a year.
Ardo said there is “no bright line between Mr. Duecker’s role with the Bureau of Narcotics Investigation and his role as chief of staff.” He said Kane requested that Duecker “continue to be actively engaged” in the narcotics bureau so that the attorney general’s office “does not suffer from its persistent transition issues.”
Wheeler said drug forfeiture vehicles can only be used in drug enforcement.
Under Corbett, “management personnel did not drive those (seized) vehicles,” Wheeler said.
In the long term, the car will remain in the narcotics bureau, Ardo said: “The car became available, and they chose to keep it.”
It’s not the first controversy in Duecker’s tenure as acting chief. Two female employees accused him of sexual harassment while he headed the narcotics bureau, complaints that came to light after his April promotion.
A report on the incidents by the Office of Professional Responsibility, the agency’s internal affairs unit, was forwarded to Kane before she promoted him. It did not, however, reach conclusions. The internal investigators didn’t interview Duecker.
After his promotion, Kane’s personnel office recommended firing him because of the allegations. The details of that recommendation aren’t public record, and officials were hesitant to speak about it on the record.
Kane stood by her decision and expressed confidence in Duecker, Ardo has said.
Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media’s state Capitol reporter. Reach him at 717-787-1405 or [email protected].