Take the Money and Run: Asset Forfeiture

Jesse James, to refresh your memories, was a Confederate sympathizer once dubbed the Robin Hood of the Americas. He was the man whose criminal gang robbed trains and banks, and committed murder as, in his mind, a means of showing support to the post-Civil War pro-slavery Democratic Party.

James and his outlaw gang of bushwhackers made it their mission to harass Republican authorities, the anti-slavery Unionists. Basically, they took things that didn’t belong to them, by whatever means necessary.

Now fast forward 136 years later, to present day America where federal authorities utilize a program called “Asset Forfeiture.”

Here’s how it works.

Graham Coke and his wife, Snorstum Jean, Lose Cash to Feds

Mrs. Snortsum Coke and her husband Graham are driving along the freeway heading over to Vegas where they plan to stay in a luxury suite with all the amenities. Their plans also include gambling. Lots of gambling. It’s what they do. They work hard and they play hard.

The Cokes spent the past forty years building up their business, a garbage collection company Graham operates out of a small nightclub, The Pink Dollhouse. He inherited the joint from his deceased father, Freebase Coke, prior to the couple’s marriage. Both are successful enterprises and both bring in a lot of loot.

So each year when the weather begins to turn cool, as a means of celebrating their good fortune, the Cokes leave their Jersey home and head west to warmer climates. With them, they bring Crack, their toy poodle, and a boatload of cash because neither Snortsum nor Graham trust banks. Besides, cash is easy to use at the casinos.

Last year on their journey to Sin City, Graham stopped for gas just off the highway between the towns of Underwood and Weston, Iowa. While pumping fuel he noticed a couple of deputy sheriffs parked in the corner of the lot and one of them was giving him the fish eye.

Graham knew he’d done nothing wrong, but when Snortsum, between alternating bites and chews of a pickled pig’s foot and a glazed donut the size of her head, bouffant hairdo included, said, “There’s a county mounty on your tale. Let’s give the pig the slip. You know, for old times sake.” Well, nervous Graham, at the mere mention of a cop, began sweating profusely.

The sudden eruption of perspiration was a genetic problem he’d unfortunately received as a hand-me-down condition from his dear mother who, bless her heart, refused to go anywhere without a portable battery-operated, handheld fan to help regulate her body temperature, especially when in the presence of law enforcement officers or prison wardens.

As bad luck would have it, the deputy switched on his lights and siren so Graham Coke eased his Aston Martin One-77 over to the gravel-covered shoulder. The pot-bellied deputy ordered the Cokes out their car at which time he observed a large paper sack overflowing with cash in the rear compartment. He also saw piles of loose Benjamin Franklins scattered about the rear floorboard. Even the center console was bulging from an excess of twenties that had been shoved inside. Later, Snortsum would reveal that she’d inserted the dough there in case they needed toll money.

As it turned out, the cops seized the cash, all $750,000, claiming they believed it to be money earned from criminal activity, most likely drug proceeds. Didn’t matter that the Cokes actually earned the cash legitimately through their two somewhat barely above board businesses.

The police never returned the cash and the Cokes were never charged with a crime.

Asset Forfeiture

In the words of the Drug Enforcement Agency …

“Forfeiture is the government taking of property, that has been illegally used or acquired, without compensating the owner.

The United States Government uses asset forfeiture to seize and forfeit property from those involved in crime which benefits law enforce-ment and the public.

Assets subject to seizure include cars, cash, real estate, or anything of value used to commit a crime or bought with drug proceeds.”

The DEA further explains …

“Forfeiting assets earned from on used in criminal activities helps law

enforcement agencies because the forfeiture:

 Takes the profit of crime away;

 Removes instrumen-talities of crime;

 Deters crime;

 Aids in dismantling drug trafficking and money laundering groups;

 Weakens criminal enterprise;

 Punishes criminals.”

And …

“There are two types of forfeiture: judicial and non-judicial (also known as administrative forfeiture).

DEA starts the administrative forfeiture pro-cess by mailing notice letters to interested parties and advertising the seized property.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office begins the judi-cial forfeiture process by filing either a civil complaint against the property (e.g., United States v. $150,000 U.S. Currency) or bringing criminal charges against a party (e.g., United States v. John Smith).

Administrative Forfeiture

Pay careful attention to this one!

Administrative forfeiture is the process by which DEA processes the forfeiture without going to court. Administrative forfeiture will be used to forfeit property unless (1) by law the property has to be forfeited judicially or (2) a party files a valid claim, which changes the administrative forfeiture into a judicial forfeiture.

Judicial Forfeiture

A federal judge must forfeit real estate and most property valued over $500,000, with some exceptions.

  • Criminal forfeiture is included as part of a defendant’s criminal prosecution. If the defendant is convicted or has a plea agreement, the court may forfeit the property.
  • Civil forfeiture is a proceeding brought against the property itself. The Government must prove that the property is connected to a crime, but a criminal conviction is not required. It is very similar to all other lawsuits involving property in the U.S., and allows the government to forfeit property when the property owner is unavailable.

There’s more …

To Seek the Property’s Return 

(1)  Petition DEA for the return of the property and/or;

(2)  File a valid claim with DEA, which means they intend to challenge the forfeiture.”

*Source ~ DEA.gov

To sum up, if the feds take your cash you may as well fuhgedaboutit, cause it’s gone. You know, like Jesse James took cash from people and never returned it. It’s sort of like that, right?



3 replies
    • Lee Lofland
      Lee Lofland says:

      This is from a conversation last night on my Facebook page.

      Scott Hoffman It’s worthwhile to further discuss some of the more egregious incentives for law enforcement to take funds this way; for instance, in many jurisdictions, police departments themselves are allowed to keep the funds, rather than forfeiting them to the state’s treasury. Talk about bad incentives…

      Lee Lofland
      Lee Lofland Departments don’t keep the entire amount. It’s typically divided between the various agencies involved, including the prosecutor’s office who files for the forfeiture. There’s oversight.

      Scott Hoffman
      Scott Hoffman Lee Lofland Depends on the jurisdiction. Worst is in places where state law doesn’t allow local law enforcement to keep proceeds, they’ll often bring in the feds, who have a program where they can share forfeited funds and property with local agencies. (I worked on asset forfeiture reform policy for 4 or 5 years in DC.) It flies in the face of the whole American tradition of “innocent until proven guilty.”

      Lee Lofland
      Lee Lofland I agree. I’ve been involved in many asset forfeiture cases, including those involving federal agencies. Many local authorities, though, prefer to keep the feds out of picture to prevent sharing that piece of the pie. However, having them involved often makes things go easier. Then it sometimes becomes a numbers game – how many cases can you make where funds and property are seized?

      A former chief was all about the money because he could spend the funds as he saw fit as long as the money went toward drug enforcement (that was the stipulation when seizing funds in drug cases). But it’s extremely easy to justify nearly anything – a boat for waterway enforcement, an RV for a command post used during drug ops, an airplane for surveillance, automatic and semi automatic firearms, K-9’s, training, vehicles, etc. As long as there was some sort of justification the spending was fine. But the paperwork had to reflect where the money went. Local cases didn’t have as much oversight.

  1. Pat Brown
    Pat Brown says:

    Legalized theft. It’s not always Mr and Mrs Cokehead getting their assets seized. It’s also people never charged with any crime who lose their homes or assets because someone thought they were gotten through illegal means. Except the cops don’t have to prove anything. And since police departments get to keep some of those proceeds there’s plenty of incentive for them to not care about guilt or innocence.

    I’ve really grown to respect and appreciate LEOs through your blog,
    Lee, but there are some things I can’t see in a positive light and this is one of them.

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