The U.S. Internal Revenue Service presented $5.3 million Friday to six local law enforcement agencies that seized the money during several recent drug and money-laundering investigations.
Authorities said it is the largest amount ever returned to California agencies at one time by the IRS, which holds onto the money until distribution.
The money, confiscated during eight investigations since 1988, is expected "to go back into local drug enforcement efforts," said IRS spokeswoman Ann Logan.
In the largest of the busts, authorities seized about $1 million from James R. Hoyland, a former Huntington Beach schoolteacher convicted in April, 1989, of laundering drug money and sentenced to three years in prison.
The Orange County Regional Narcotics Suppression Program, a task force consisting of area police departments, was given the highest award, $4.2 million.
Fullerton Police Chief Phil Goehring, who accepted the award on behalf of the task force at a Laguna Niguel press conference, said the money was much needed.
"It gives us a year or two of cushion to provide for the salaries of people I have committed to drug enforcement," Goehring said.
"The economy has forced the city to make a consecutive series of cuts," he said. "It's now the fourth or fifth cut we've had to make. Any more cuts and we'd be forced to consider laying off people."
As part of a federal program to funnel drug money back to law enforcement, the IRS has returned from 80% to 85% of the assets seized in investigations to various police narcotics squads across the country.
Since 1990, IRS agents have collected about $30 million during drug and money-laundering arrests in the Southland. About a third of it has been given to the Orange County narcotics task force.
Newport Beach Police Chief Arb Campbell said the money will "ease the burden on taxpayers," but declined to say how the department will spend its $280,175 award. In previous years, the department has purchased a helicopter and a mobile command port with money seized during investigations.
Drug Money Spoils
Orange County law enforcement agencies sharing cash awards from the Internal Revenue Service:
Agency: Orange County Regional Narcotics Suppression Program Amount: $4.2 million
Agency: California Department of Justice Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement Agency (Laguna Niguel) Amount: $280,175
Agency: Newport Beach Police Department Amount: 280,175
Agency: Orange County district attorney's office Amount: 159,465
Agency: Orange County Sheriff's Department Amount: 56,035
Note: The Long Beach Police Department received $280,175.
Source: IRS, Laguna Niguel district.