Former Illinois police chief Michael Newsome, who has been charged with the theft of over $200,000 in civil asset forfeiture funds, has waived his right to jury trial. Newsome was first arrested in 2012 and has been out on bond ever since.
Newsome has been charged with seven felonies. The charges include the theft of over $100,000 in government property, official misconduct, and the misappropriation of funds. The thefts are alleged to have occurred between 2007 and 2012.
At the indictment, the prosecution showed that Newsome had made several dozen withdrawals from the North Chicago Police Department Asset Forfeiture Seizure Fund. Newsome deposited the cash in his own bank account. He used this money, which totaled $219,337, for personal expenses. These expenses included his auto payments, tuition fees for his children’s education, and home remodeling investments.
In 2015, two of the charges against Newsome were dropped after defense attorney Doug Zeit made the argument that the statute of limitations applied to the case. This decision was reversed in 2017 when an appellate court ruled that the charges were still valid as the statute of limitations does not apply to public officials.
Civil asset forfeiture is the legal procedure where law enforcement can take an individual’s property or cash if it is suspected of involvement in a crime. In most states, criminal charges are not needed for property to be seized. The practice has been criticized by groups across the political spectrum as attacking citizen’s civil liberties.
In Chicago, law enforcement retains up to 90% of the revenue from forfeitures. This has led to accusations that police departments have an incentive to seize property. Additionally, in many states, there is little oversight on how the funds from civil asset forfeiture are used. At the time of Newsome’s initial arrest in 2012, only a minimal amount of information was collected on civil asset forfeitures in the state. This information was not aggregated, nor was it made available to the public.
With little oversight on the use of the proceeds of civil asset forfeiture, this is not the first time that funds have allegedly been misused. In neighboring Michigan, for example, an investigation is currently underway in Macomb County over potential misuse of funds. Meanwhile, in Georgia, a Gwinnett County sheriff recently caused controversy when he used asset forfeiture funds to buy a Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat.
A law reforming civil asset forfeiture came into effect in Illinois over the summer. One of the law’s provisions states that forfeitures must now be publicly reported. This annual report must include information on how the profits from forfeitures were spent. While this reporting is to be welcomed, it should be noted that law enforcement agencies in other areas of the country have avoided complying with similar requirements.
Further, the reforms do nothing to stop local and state law enforcement agencies from partnering with the federal government under a program known as “equitable sharing.” By doing so, these agencies can circumvent state laws and still retain 80% of the proceeds of forfeitures.
Newsome has a status date set for January 7, with a trial potentially beginning on January 28. Newsome has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Civil Asset Forfeiture Attorney
If your lawful property has been seized, then you should hire a lawyer. Contact us to set up a free initial consultation and work with one of Florida’s most experienced civil forfeiture defense attorneys.