Local police eye state car probe

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 17, 1999

A state auditor’s investigation into a Jackson automobile dealership may lead to money being returned to state and local agencies, including the Natchez Police.

East Ford in Jackson is under scrutiny by the state auditor’s office for possibly overbilling state agencies for law enforcement vehicles, a Jackson television station reported Thursday.

While the auditor’s office wouldn’t confirm that such an investigation was under way, Jack Bethany, vice president of East, confirmed the company was cooperating with the investigation, the TV station reported.

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East had the state contract bid for law enforcement vehicles for the last four years. Investigators are looking into whether East may have charged agencies for options that should have been included as standard equipment.

Among the dozens of state and local law enforcement agencies that purchased vehicles from East was the Natchez Police. &uot;We did exactly what the state told us to do,&uot;&160;said Natchez Police Chief Willie Huff. &uot;If the prices were wrong we want our money back.&uot;

Huff said the department has purchased about 17 cars from East in the last four years. The department bought three patrol cars last year at a price of $19,548 each.

He said the reason departments purchase vehicles from out-of-town dealers is because dealers that get the state contract are offered big incentives from the automobile manufacturers – thus allowing for big savings to the law agencies.

Huff said his department always checks with local dealers to see if they can come close to the state bids before making a purchase. NPD does buy some vehicles locally, usually the non-patrol car models, he said.

Huff said the state makes state contract bids to help smaller agencies and departments get better prices on auto purchases.

&uot;Take Meadville for example,&uot; he said. &uot;Who would want to bid on one police car?&uot;