Eastern Arizona College recently hosted a training event on police standards for officers throughout the state. The source of funding for the event? Assets seized using civil asset forfeiture.
Civil asset forfeiture is supposed to hamstring large drug enterprises by targeting their profits. However, it is hard to compare the resident drug dealers of Graham County to big-time drug lords.
Graham County attorney Scott Bennett explained that officers in Gila Valley don’t often seize criminal assets using forfeiture, but when they do, the funds are earmarked for constructive projects—like the recent training event at Eastern Arizona College. Bennett explained that most dealers work toward their addiction and that none have ever become wealthy from it. They don’t work for any large criminal organizations or own expensive financial assets. Even if they did, they would be at the bottom of the ladder.
Under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, law enforcement agencies have permission to seize assets allegedly purchased from the profits of criminal activity. Federal and state law authorizes police to use confiscated cash from suspected criminal enterprises to combat criminal activity.
Opponents of forfeiture permitted under RICO argue that officers should not be authorized to seize assets without proving one’s guilt. They are also against the potential exploitation of the funds by law enforcement agencies since seized assets are used to pad police department budgets. According to Arizona Public Law, the value of assets seized using forfeiture within the last five years has ranged from $586 to $8532. Records indicate those funds were spent on tactical equipment.
There are several examples of abuse of seized funds by Arizona law enforcement. In 2012, The Phoenix New Times reported former Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu spent $35,000 in anti-racketeering funds on specialty badges and customized coins in honor of Arizona’s centennial. Babeu had reportedly mismanaged over $2 million in RICO funds in 2019, according to state auditors.
In another case, Pima County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Christopher Radtke was sentenced in 2017 for exploiting $500,000 in RICO funds. After reaching a plea agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Radtke got a year of probation, 100 hours of community service, and a $3000 fine. He was also prohibited from working in law enforcement in Pima County.
Five months after Radtke’s indictment on seven felony charges related to theft and money laundering, he pleaded guilty to three counts of theft of government property. He allegedly conspired with others over the last five years to evade rules regarding funds obtained from the seizure of criminal assets by law enforcement. According to an investigation report, Radtke and the others used the funds for unauthorized reasons, including buying personal items and funding ceremonies.
The Institute of Justice (IJ), a Virginia-based law firm, has graded Arizona with a D minus for its civil forfeiture laws. According to IJ, Arizona’s law enforcement had seized $643 million in forfeiture assets between 2000 and 2019, averaging over $32 million per year. Many jurisdictions don’t provide an accounting of forfeited funds, so it’s hard to estimate the true scope of the practice.
If you had your lawful possessions seized by law enforcement, then you should consult a civil asset forfeiture attorney. An attorney can guide you through the justice system and help you get back your seized assets.
Nationwide Federal Civil Asset Forfeiture Attorney
Has law enforcement taken your property using civil forfeiture? Contact Brian Silber, P.A. to set up a free initial consultation and get the assistance of a nationwide federal civil asset forfeiture attorney.