The issue of confiscated cash and property by US law enforcement agencies has been a top concern in recent years. Organizations like The Institute of Justice based in Virginia work to protect the rights of citizens affected by unfettered civil asset forfeiture now known as policing for profit. The Institute has represented small business owners who have had funds and property taken by police even though no charges were filed or no crime was ever committed.
Some of these funds confiscated through civil asset forfeiture were eventually returned, but many have never been recovered. Once disbursed to either state or federal agencies, watchdog organizations have found it nearly impossible to locate the assets again. Many are now asking why this practice exists at all and why it is still so pervasive.
The seizing of assets by law enforcement is designed to fight crime on a large scale. Criminals involved in drug or human trafficking, embezzlement, and money laundering need massive amounts of money to continue their illegal activities. When their money or property—or both—are seized by law enforcement agencies, their ability to carry on their business is thwarted. Three cases filed in late 2020 are examples.
The first example is a recent civil forfeiture case filed by the US Department of Justice. It states that commercial property in Cleveland, Ohio was purchased with misappropriated funds allegedly obtained as part of a loan scheme. Two other purchases resulted in two other complaints in Kentucky and Texas. All three purchases are alleged to have used laundered funds from PrivatBank in Ukraine. The DOJ states that the property is subject to forfeiture resting on federal statutes against money laundering. Further, the money obtained as a result of foreign corruption should be used to benefit any American who was harmed in some way by this corruption and abuse of office. The buildings in question have a combined value of more than $60 million.
Although there have been several versions of federal law regulating how this $60 million would be used, the latest iteration results from U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ 2017 return to the Equitable Sharing Program. This program gives the federal government a green light to confiscate any assets related to federal crimes as long as those assets were seized lawfully. This means the $60 million would be allocated to various state and federal law enforcement agencies to be used as each wishes. Examples are drug treatment programs, victim-witness assistance, indigent defense, and rehabilitation programs. It all sounds good, so why do programs like this generate so many objections?
The opposition comes when money is taken from citizens who are never accused, charged, or convicted of any wrongdoing. The Institute of Justice found that the average amount taken from citizens is around $900, certainly not enough to fund large criminal organizations. In addition, a study published about this practice found that traffic stops resulting in seizures of money or property went up economic downturns. This gives the impression that budget shortfalls in police departments are being made up with civil asset forfeitures. The risk of abuse is great.
The possible sale of $60 million of property obtained through laundered funds from PrivatBank in Ukraine would seriously affect their criminal business. But on a smaller scale, civil asset forfeiture often denies citizens access to their own property when guilty only of a minor traffic infraction.
South Florida Civil Asset Forfeiture Attorney
Has you lawful property been seized using civil asset forfeiture? Contact Brian Silber, P.A. to set up a free initial consultation with one of South Florida’s most experienced civil asset forfeiture defense attorneys.