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By Franco Ordonez, McClatchy Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — The city of Charlotte, North Carolina, must pay back more than $132,000 in misused federal dollars that city officials received to beef up security during the 2012 Democratic National Convention, according to a new federal investigation.

The $50 million in grant money was supposed to be used exclusively to bring in more officers, to buy equipment and for other security measures to help protect the 35,000 dignitaries and guests that converged on the city to officially nominate President Barack Obama to represent the Democratic Party.

But in a 27-page report, the U.S. Department of Justice inspector general found that federal dollars had been used to give a deputy police chief a $12,200 lump payment and a retired police captain nearly $8,000 in retirement payments. The grant money also was used to pay more than $16,000 in salaries and overtime for 39 Charlotte Fire Department employees.

More than $53,000 was improperly used to pay for two SUVs that were supposed to be modified with running boards and grab bars so officers could be transported to convention events, according to the report. The modifications were never made, however, so the vehicles could have been rented for less money, the inspector general estimated.

“If Congress chooses to continue providing funds for presidential nominating convention security, future grant recipients need to place a greater emphasis on pursuing low cost alternatives to procuring grant-funded property whenever those options are available,” the report said.

The findings are part of a federal review of $100 million in security grants that the cities of Charlotte and Tampa, Florida, received for the Democratic and Republican presidential conventions. The inspector general found $25,192 in questionable costs by the city of Tampa, including the mayor’s use of a grant-funded SUV for non-security purposes.

The conclusions may bolster criticism that taxpayers shouldn’t be paying for conventions that have evolved into largely scripted commercials for each political party. Host cites have also been accused of using the money to stock up on equipment and resources that are unnecessary for the events.

The city of Charlotte admitted it shouldn’t have used the money to offset the personnel costs. Officials told the inspector general that the payments were inadvertent oversight and clerical errors.

In April, President Barack Obama signed a law that ended $18.2 million in public funding each for the Democratic and Republican conventions. But that money is separate from the $100 million that Charlotte and Tampa received to defray security costs.

Photo: Cliff1066 via Flickr
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