Someone must have deactivated the Dallas Morning News’s B.S. detectors [Amy Alkon] The paper’s editors uncritically cheer new proposals from Texas Sen. John Cornyn and Rep. Ted Poe for legal changes including wider use of forfeiture and more draconian sentences for johns. More: “There have been two compelling-prostitution cases filed in Harris County this year. Not 300,000. Two.” [Mark Bennett] Yet more: the paper corrected 11/24.
Headline, from WWJ: “Sterling Heights Gas Station Owner Says IRS Grabbed $70K From His Bank Account For No Reason” Mark Zaniewski, “owner of Metro Marathon in [suburban Macomb County], said the IRS emptied out his bank account twice over the course of a week this spring.” No charges have been filed; Larry Salzman of the Institute for Justice, representing Zaniewski, says the accounts were seized on suspicion of bank “structuring” (knowingly arranging deposits to fall below $10,000), even though some deposits were over that threshold. Salzman says his client has been waiting seven months for his cash and in the mean time is unable to get a hearing before a judge. IJ recently took on a structuring case involving a grocer in nearby Fraser, Mich. Earlier on structuring and its intersection with forfeiture law here, here, here, etc.
Update via Dan Alban on Twitter: “BREAKING: IRS voluntarily dismisses Michigan forfeiture cases, will return seized money to owners of family grocery store and gas station. Doesn’t get feds out of IJ’s separate constitutional lawsuit re: right to prompt hearing, Dehko v. Holder.”
“South Dakota v. Fifteen Impounded Cats” is one of those fairly common in rem cases with an amusing caption. Would you really be surprised if the cats won? [Lowering the Bar, which has the best list I've seen of comical case names]
P.S. On a more serious note, many of these cases are attempted forfeitures with the associated due process problems [The Economist]
This isn’t the first time Fulton County, which includes Atlanta, has come under suspicion of turning forfeiture proceeds into what one might call seizure slush funds. “According to guidelines published by the U.S. Department of Justice, agencies that participate in the federal equitable sharing program (like the Fulton County DA), must ‘avoid any appearance of extravagance, waste, or impropriety’ when spending forfeiture funds.” [Nick Sibilla, Institute for Justice]
P.S. In other forfeiture news, the U.S. Department of Justice has dropped efforts to seize/forfeit the property of landlords renting to California legal medical marijuana dispensaries [Nick Schou/OC Weekly, Reason] And [h/t commenter Gitarcarver] South Florida’s Sun-Sentinel has an expose of forfeiture doings in Sunrise, Fla. Yet more: Baltimore judge aims stinging criticisms at assistant U.S. attorney Stefan Cassella in seized-Mercedes case [Van Smith, City Paper]
The Institute for Justice is defending the owners of a grocery store in Fraser, Mich. who saw their bank account seized under forfeiture law on suspicion of structuring deposits (keeping them below $10,000 on purpose to avoid reporting). Video here. We’ve been covering the results of structuring law, and its intersection with forfeiture powers, for a while now, and its nice to see the issue attracting the notice of a group as formidable and high-profile as IJ.
“…can be stripped of their cash, cars, and even homes.” Sarah Stillman’s new article in the New Yorker is making a stir, and I write up some of its highlights at Cato at Liberty, including the traffic-stop scandal in Tenaha, Texas, a curious raid on a Detroit art museum, and the plight of a Philadelphia couple whose son sold $20 of pot from their front porch (& Don Boudreaux, Cafe Hayek).
Bonus: “The Civil Forfeiture Implications of the DEA-NSA Spy Program” [Eapen Thampy, Americans for Forfeiture Reform]
“Washington D.C. city council members are considering a bill that would give D.C. residents the strongest protections against the abuse of civil asset forfeiture in the country.” [John Ross] “Court Ruling Forces Nebraska Police to Return $1 Million Seized from a Former Exotic Dancer by Asset Forfeiture” [Ilya Somin, Lincoln Journal-Star] The American Bar Association, admittedly not a wholly disinterested party, “is supporting the right to a pretrial hearing to challenge court orders freezing assets that a defendant needs to retain counsel.” [ABA Journal] And not necessarily a forfeiture story, but worth pondering even if not: “Undercover Informant Plants Crack Cocaine in Smoke Shop, Business Owner Saved by Tape” [Scotia (Schenectady County), N.Y.; Krayewski]
Asset forfeiture operations with private helpers working on contingency fee:
After seizing more than $1 million in cash in drug stops this year, a district attorney has suspended further roadside busts by his task force because of growing criticism over a private company’s participation.
District Attorney Jason Hicks, whose territory includes four Oklahoma counties, hired Guthrie-based Desert Snow LLC with a deal to pay it between 10 and 25 percent of seizure proceeds, depending on whether its “trainers” were present or only department officers. “Sometimes, no drugs were found and no one was arrested, but task force officers took money found in the vehicles anyway after a drug-sniffing dog got excited.” Now criminal charges arising from the stops are being ended, an investigation has been launched into allegedly missing funds, and “some” money is being returned to motorists. A judge said he was “shocked”
after learning the private company’s owner pulled over a pregnant driver along Interstate 40 and questioned her even though he is not a state-certified law enforcement officer….
Forfeited funds are split among the law enforcement agencies of the task force after Desert Snow is paid.
It bears repeating again and again: contingency fees and law enforcement authority don’t mix. Not ethically, anyway. (via Ed Brayton; more from Eapen Thampy, Americans for Forfeiture Reform).
We reported last month on the federal seizure of the 46-foot sailboat Janice Ann. Now an update: in a letter to petitioner Jeffrey Southworth, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection division of the Department of Homeland Security has offered to return the boat in exchange for a hold-harmless agreement sparing Customs from any demand for attorneys’ fees, damages or other relief. If the deal is not accepted within 30 days, “administrative forfeiture proceedings will be initiated by publishing a notice of seizure and intent to forfeit for 30 consecutive days at www.forfeiture.gov. After that time, the government acquires full title to the seized property.”
The CBP letter is here (& Sailing Scuttlebutt).
Should the feds be trying to seize the 46-foot sailboat Janice Ann? [John Ross, Daily Caller]
If blaring your stereo around the neighborhood gets you sent up for disorderly conduct, do you risk seizure of just your radio? Or maybe your whole car? “Hawaii County Prosecutor Mitch Roth has lambasted the bill as ‘draconian.’ Meanwhile, state Sen. Russell Ruderman called SB 1342 ‘outrageous,’ telling Big Island Now that ‘we should have more safeguards, not less, to protect people from forfeiture abuses.’” [Nick Sibilla, Institute for Justice]