The Georgia Department of Revenue has reportedly ended its practice of using funds seized in criminal investigations through civil asset forfeiture and returned $2.1 million to the Office of the State Treasurer.
According to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the department made the change after the publication reported that the Revenue Department’s Office of Special Investigations had spent millions of dollars seized in criminal investigations on frivolous purchases, including expensive gym equipment, engraved firearms, clothing, and personal items. By its own accounting, the office spent $2.9 million of this money over the past four years.
A day after the story was published in March, the agency quietly returned $2,165,796 to the state treasury, sources indicate. The payment accounts for almost all of the remaining money collected by the department since 2016. All that remains is $5,005 which will be sent to the treasury in the coming months, a department spokesperson told the press. The spokesperson added that the agency will no longer retain or spend civil asset forfeiture funds in the future.
Records show the Revenue Department took in more than $5.1 million in asset forfeiture funds from 2016 to 2019. Some critics of asset forfeiture are suggesting the Attorney General recoup the millions that were already spent.
“They still spent a ton of money on things like commemorative badges that have no meaning and trinkets,” said State Rep. Scot Turner, R-Holly Springs. “I believe they still owe the taxpayers $3 million, and the Attorney General’s office should go after the people who took it from the taxpayers.”
The seizing was reportedly orchestrated by former Office of Special Investigations Director Joshua Waites, whose office obtained most of the funds from criminal investigations involving the alleged illegal use of video gambling machines often found in convenience stores.
State statutes allow stores to have video gambling machines as long as winnings aren’t paid out in cash. That didn’t stop Waites’ office, which reportedly filed simultaneous criminal and civil charges against operators and seized their assets, including homes, cars, and sometimes even the college savings funds.
Under state law, money seized by state agencies is “subject to appropriation from the general fund,” meaning forfeiture funds should first be deposited into the general fund and then dispersed via the state government’s annual appropriations process. Other state agencies, like the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI), don’t keep money seized as part of criminal investigations. GBI instead turns over its funds to the treasury to fund the state budget.
Waites resigned in March after it was discovered that he falsely stated in his job application that he had a degree from a college that doesn’t exist.
Civil asset forfeiture is a legal process that allows law enforcement to seize property—cash, property, cars, and the like—that are suspected of being connected to crime. It is meant to disrupt criminal activity by targeting illicit proceeds, but critics argue that there are too many incentives for abuse and not enough protections for innocent citizens who have their private property seized.
South Florida Civil Asset Forfeiture Attorney
Has your lawful property been seized using asset forfeiture? Contact Brian Silber, P.A. to set up a free initial consultation and work with one of South Florida’s most experienced civil asset forfeiture attorneys.