If you haven't been listening to Morning Edition or All Things Considered this week, you're missing an outstanding series of reports about the ability of police to seize assets used in a crime.
As with many of these sorts of laws, the problem isn't with people who have been proven guilty of a crime, it's in cases where people haven't, but lost their assets anyway.
Take the case of Javier Gonzalez, for example, who owned a used car lot, had $10,000 in cash with him, and looked nervous to the police officer who stopped him.
The deputies handed Gonzalez a waiver: If he signed over the money and did not claim the currency, he could walk away free. If he did not sign the waiver, he would be arrested for money-laundering. Gonzalez signed the waiver and gave up rights to his money.
"So at that time we got in our car and we left, still trying to figure out what just happened. We got officers that took our cash. We got officers that told us we can't get an attorney. So I'm thinking, are these guys officers of law? Did I just get robbed of my money?"
In Texas, NPR reported, with its smuggling corridors to Mexico, public safety agencies seized more than $125 million last year.
What happens to some of the assets? They're sold if it's not cash. In Minnesota, for example, you can buy some commercial property in Hayfield, a single-family home in Hinckley, 10 acres of land in Taylors Falls, and a house in Lauderdale.
Tonight on All Things Considered, the third installment in the four-part series features Eddie Ingram, who has made quite a career out of spotting vehicles loaded with drug cash. (Update 5:31 p.m. Here's the story.)
A story earlier this year reported that the Drug Enforcement Administration is refusing to work with, Ingram, an Alabama deputy sheriff, because he's traveled to over 25 states to help "train" police officers. A DEA official said some law enforcement agencies and officers use the "training" as a front to work in other areas of the country "on drug cases on a contract or contingency basis in exchange for a share of any assets that officers seize during arrests."
WOW! I'm going to catch up on the series now and tune it tonight. Thanks for the heads up Mr. Collins.
It's not just a state issue. The ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms) recently got into some hot water for engraving "Always Thing Forfeiture” on the Leatherman tool kits provided to its agents as part of a training initiative.
As part of training for ATF special agents and state and local task force officers, ATF purchased a number of Leatherman tool kits engraved with the words ‘ATF – Asset Forfeiture’ and ‘Always Think Forfeiture’ for distribution to the participants. These training aids were designed to increase awareness of the asset forfeiture concept so that persons who do not regularly employ the strategy as part of a criminal investigation might be reminded to consider it.
- Michael Wells,
Web Producer, The Current
Asset forfeiture is a great tool. It really helps small communities offset the cost of enforcement.
But its about money -- and that demands some stringent controls.