A possible financial scandal is emerging in Michigan, where state officials have been asked to investigate the use of civil asset forfeiture funds in Macomb County. On Monday, Macomb County Treasurer Lawrence Rocca wrote to state officials, saying the review was necessary because of discoveries made during a recent audit of the finances of Macomb County Prosecutor’s Office.
The audit, which was conducted by Plante Moran LLC, showed the county prosecutor was using four secret bank accounts with a combined total of $239,581 in assets as of Aug 21. These accounts were not listed on the county’s ledger. The funds in these accounts came from the proceeds of civil asset forfeiture.
Civil asset forfeiture is the legal process where law enforcement can seize an individual’s property or cash without needing to file criminal charges. All that is required is a suspicion that the property was involved in a crime. In most instances, some or all of the proceeds from these forfeitures goes directly to local or state law enforcement. These agencies then use the funds to pay for overtime, equipment, and other items. For this reason, critics say there is an incentive for law enforcement to seize property using civil asset forfeiture. This is known as “policing for profit.”
In many states, there is little government oversight on the use of funds gained through civil asset forfeiture. In Michigan, law enforcement agencies must file an annual report with the Michigan State police who then compile all reports and submit them to the state legislature. In 2015, the requirements for the reports were expanded to include information about the alleged violation which led to the seizure and whether there are any related criminal charges. However, the report does not include information about how the funds gained through forfeitures are later used.
If the review of Macomb County Prosecutor’s Office shows malpractice, the county will join a growing list of those who have misused civil asset forfeiture funds. In June, for example, I reported on the systematic mismanagement of Hawaii’s asset forfeiture program, which included millions of dollars being incorrectly allocated.
In March, I reported on Dan Johnson, a Fifth Circuit Solicitor in South Carolina who misused tens of thousands of dollars of civil asset forfeiture funds on casinos, gym memberships, and global travel. Finally, in May, I wrote about the city of Palmview, Texas, which is under investigation for misappropriation of civil asset forfeiture funds.
In addition to the four secret bank accounts, Rocca has other concerns arising from the audit. The prosecutor’s office had told Rocca they only had one bank account under its control, not four. Despite this, there are three signers of record for the secret accounts, and these include two current employees of the Macomb County Prosecutor’s office: Prosecutor Eric Smith and his chief assistant, James Langry. Further, the secret accounts use a tax ID number not belonging to Macomb County.
Langry insists there is nothing wrong. “The letter released by Macomb County Treasurer Larry Rocca shines a light on his lack of experience and knowledge of the state forfeiture laws,” he said. “The previous two treasurers of the county were aware of these funds and confident that they were protected and applied to serve the men and women of law enforcement and the victims of crime in this county.”
The review, according to state officials, will take four to six weeks to complete.
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.