Posts Tagged ‘civil asset forfeiture’

 

“Civil forfeiture laws represent one of the most serious assaults on private property rights in the nation today. Under civil forfeiture, police and prosecutors can seize your car or other property, sell it and use the proceeds to fund agency budgets—all without so much as charging you with a crime. Unlike criminal forfeiture, where property is taken after its owner has been found guilty in a court of law, with civil forfeiture, owners need not be charged with or convicted of a crime to lose homes, cars, cash or other property. Americans are supposed to be innocent until proven guilty, but civil forfeiture turns that principle on its head.  With civil forfeiture, your property is guilty until you prove it innocent.”—“ Policing for Profit: The Abuse of Civil Asset Forfeiture,” Institute for Justice

In jolly old England, Robin Hood stole from the rich to give to the poor.

In modern-day America, greedy government goons steal from the innocent to give to the corrupt under court- and legislature-sanctioned schemes called civil asset forfeiture. In fact, according to The Washington Post, “law enforcement took more stuff from people than burglars did.”

This is how the American police state continues to get rich: by stealing from the citizenry.

Here’s how the whole ugly business works in a nutshell.

First, government agents (usually the police) use a broad array of tactics to profile, identify, target and arrange to encounter (in a traffic stop, on a train, in an airport, in public, or on private property) those  individuals who might be traveling with a significant amount of cash or possess property of value. Second, these government agents—empowered by the courts and the legislatures—seize private property (cash, jewelry, cars, homes and other valuables) they “suspect” may be connected to criminal activity.

Then—and here’s the kicker—whether or not any crime is actually proven to have taken place, without any charges being levied against the property owner, or any real due process afforded the unlucky victim, the property is forfeited to the government, which often divvies it up with the local police who helped with the initial seizure.

It’s a new, twisted form of guilt by association.

Only it’s not the citizenry being accused of wrongdoing, just their money.

What this adds up to is a paradigm in which Americans no longer have to be guilty to be stripped of their property, rights and liberties. All you have to be is in possession of something the government wants.

Motorists have been particularly vulnerable to this modern-day form of highway robbery.

For instance, police stole $201,000 in cash from Lisa Leonard because the money—which Leonard planned to use to buy a house for her son—was being transported on a public highway also used by drug traffickers. Despite the fact that Leonard was innocent of wrongdoing, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the theft on a technicality.

Police stole $50,000 in cash from Amanee Busbee—which she planned to use to complete the purchase of a restaurant—and threatened to hand her child over to CPS if she resisted. She’s one of the few to win most of her money back in court.

Police stole $22,000 in cash from Jerome Chennault—which he planned to use as the down payment on a home—simply because a drug dog had alerted police to its presence in his car. After challenging the seizure in court, Chennault eventually succeeded in having most of his money returned, although the state refused to compensate him for his legal and travel expenses.

Police stole $8,500 in cash and jewelry from Roderick Daniels—which he planned to use to purchase a new car—and threatened him with jail and money-laundering charges if he didn’t sign a waiver forfeiting his property.

Police stole $6,000 in cash from Jennifer Boatright and Ron Henderson and threatened to turn their young children over to Child Protective Services if they resisted.

Tenaha, Texas, is a particular hotbed of highway forfeiture activity, so much so that police officers keep pre-signed, pre-notarized documents on hand so they can fill in what property they are seizing.

As the Huffington Post explains, these police forfeiture operations have become little more than criminal shakedowns:

Police in some jurisdictions have run forfeiture operations that would be difficult to distinguish from criminal shakedowns. Police can pull motorists over, find some amount of cash or other property of value, claim some vague connection to illegal drug activity and then present the motorists with a choice: If they hand over the property, they can be on their way. Otherwise, they face arrest, seizure of property, a drug charge, a probable night in jail, the hassle of multiple return trips to the state or city where they were pulled over, and the cost of hiring a lawyer to fight both the seizure and the criminal charge. It isn’t hard to see why even an innocent motorist would opt to simply hand over the cash and move on.

Unsurprisingly, these asset forfeiture scams have become so profitable for the government that they have expanded their reach beyond the nation’s highways.

According to USA Today, the U.S. Department of Justice received $2.01 billion in forfeited items in 2013, and since 2008 local and state law enforcement nationwide has raked in some $3 billion in forfeitures through the federal “equitable sharing” program.

So now it’s not just drivers who have to worry about getting the shakedown.

Any American unwise enough to travel with significant amounts of cash is fair game for the government pickpockets.

In fact, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has been colluding with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and local police departments to seize a small fortune in cash from American travelers using the very tools—scanners, spies and surveillance devices—they claimed were necessary to catch terrorists.

Mind you, TSA agents already have a reputation for stealing from travelers, but clearly the government is not concerned about protecting the citizenry from its own wolfish tendencies.

No, the government isn’t looking to catch criminals. It’s just out for your cold, hard cash.

As USA Today reports, although DEA agents have seized more than $203 million in cash in airports alone since 2006, they almost never make arrests or build criminal cases in connection to the seized cash.

For instance, DEA agents at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport stole $11,000 in cash from college student Charles Clarke—his entire life savings, in fact—simply because they claimed his checked suitcase smelled like marijuana. Apart from the sniff test, no drugs or evidence of criminal activity were found.

Christelle Tillerson was waiting to board a flight from Detroit to Chicago when DEA agents stole $25,000 in cash from her suitcase, money she planned to use to buy a truck. Tillerson was never arrested or charged

Joseph Rivers was traveling on an Amtrak train from Michigan to Los Angeles when police stole $16,000 in cash in a bank envelope—money the 22-year-old had saved up to produce a music when he arrived in Hollywood—based solely on their groundless suspicions that the money could have been associated with drugs.

How does the government know which travelers to target?

Through surveillance of Americans’ domestic travel records, by profiling train and airport passengers, and by relying on a “network of travel-industry informants that extends from ticket counters to back offices.” In one instance, the DEA actually promised to give a TSA security screener a reward for identifying luggage with large sums of cash: the more cash found, the bigger the reward.

Starting to notice a pattern?

First, the government claims it needs more powers and more weapons in order to fight crime and terrorism: the power to spy on Americans’ communications and travel; the ability to carry out virtual and actual strip searches of Americans’ luggage, persons and property; the authority to stop and interrogate travelers for any reason in the name of national security.

Then, when government agents have been given enough powers and weapons to transform them into mini-tyrants, they’re unleashed on an unsuspecting citizenry with few resources to be able to defend themselves or protect their property.

So much for those long-cherished ideals about the assumption of innocence and due process.

For example, the federal government attempted to confiscate Russell Caswell’s family-owned Tewksbury, Massachusetts, motel, insisting that because a small percentage of the motel’s guests had been arrested for drug crimes—15 out of 200,000 visitors in a 14-year span—the motel was a dangerous property. As Reason reports:

This cruel surprise was engineered by Vincent Kelley, a forfeiture specialist at the Drug Enforcement Administration who read about the Motel Caswell in a news report and found that the property, which the Caswells own free and clear, had an assessed value of $1.3 million. So Kelley approached the Tewksbury Police Department with an “equitable sharing” deal: The feds would seize the property and sell it, and the cops would get up to 80 percent of the proceeds.

Thankfully, with the help of a federal judge, Caswell managed to keep his motel out of the government’s clutches, but others are not so fortunate.

Gerald and Royetta Ostipow had their Michigan farm and property seized, including a classic muscle car, and then sold by the local sheriff’s office. As USA Today reports:

The Ostipows were required to provide a $150,000 cash bond before they could begin the legal proceedings to contest the forfeiture and get their property back. But they couldn’t afford to. An appeals court later overturned the Ostipow’s hefty bond requirement… But the ruling didn’t stop the nightmare for the couple who were never charged with a crime. They still had to win a court case seeking the return of hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of property taken from the Ostipow’s rural Michigan home, including a cherished classic car. Eventually, an appeals court found that the property was wrongly forfeited. But it was too later to recover the car. With the odometer mysteriously bearing an additional 56,000 miles, police had already sold the car and spent the proceeds.

Despite the fact that 80 percent of these asset forfeiture cases result in no charge against the property owner, challenging these “takings” in court can cost the owner more than the value of the confiscated property itself. As a result, most property owners either give up the fight or chalk the confiscation up to government corruption, leaving the police and other government officials to reap the benefits.

Under a federal equitable sharing program, police turn asset forfeiture cases over to federal agents who process seizures and then return 80% of the proceeds to the police. Michigan police actually get to keep up to 100% of forfeited property.

This is what has become known as “policing for profit.”

According to USA Today, “Anecdotal evidence suggests that allowing departments to keep forfeiture proceeds may tempt them to use the funds unwisely. For example, consider a 2015 scandal in Romulus, Michigan, where police officers used funds forfeited from illicit drug and prostitution stings to pay for …  illicit drugs and prostitutes.”

Police agencies have also used their ill-gotten gains “to buy guns, armored cars and electronic surveillance gear,” reportsThe Washington Post. “They have also spent money on luxury vehicles, travel and a clown named Sparkles.”

So what’s to be done?

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, we are now ruled by a government so consumed with squeezing every last penny out of the population as to be completely unconcerned if essential freedoms are trampled in the process.

Our freedoms aren’t just being trampled, however.

They’re being eviscerated.

At every turn, “we the people” are getting swindled, cheated, conned, robbed, raided, pickpocketed, mugged, deceived, defrauded, double-crossed and fleeced by governmental and corporate shareholders of the American police state out to make a profit at taxpayer expense.

President Trump has made it clear his loyalties lie with the police, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has previously declared his love for civil asset forfeiture, the Supreme Court keeps marching in lockstep with the police state, and the police unions don’t want their gravy train to go away, so there’s not much hope for federal reform anytime soon.

As always, change will have to begin locally and move upwards.

Some state legislatures (Florida, Michigan, Nebraska, New Mexico, and Ohio) are beginning to push back against these clearly unconstitutional asset forfeiture schemes. As the National Review reports, “New Mexico now requires a criminal conviction before law enforcement can seize property, while police in Florida must prove “beyond reasonable doubt” that property is linked to a crime before it’s seized.”

More than legislative change, however, what we need is a change of mindset on the part of the citizenry. We need to stop acting like victims and start acting like citizens with rights.

Remember, long before Americans charted their revolutionary course in pursuit of happiness, it was “life, liberty, and property” which constituted the golden triad of essential rights that the government was charged with respecting and protecting.

To the colonists, smarting from mistreatment at the hands of the British crown, protecting their property from governmental abuse was just as critical as preserving their lives and liberties. As the colonists understood, if the government can arbitrarily take away your property, you have no true rights: you’re nothing more than a serf or a slave.

The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was born of this need to safeguard against any attempt by the government to unlawfully deprive a citizen of the right to life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.

Little could our ancestral forebears have imagined that it would take less than three centuries of so-called “independence” to once again render us brow-beaten subjects in bondage to an overlord bent on depriving us of our most inalienable and fundamental rights.

Yet if the government can arbitrarily freeze, seize or lay claim to your property (money, land or possessions) under government asset forfeiture schemes, you have no true rights.

Enough is enough.

WC: 2345

ABOUT JOHN W. WHITEHEAD

Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute. His new book Battlefield America: The War on the American People (SelectBooks, 2015) is available online at http://www.amazon.com. Whitehead can be contacted at johnw@rutherford.org.

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“Who needs direct repression when one can convince the chicken to walk freely into the slaughterhouse?”—Philosopher Slavoj Žižek

Despite the best efforts of some to sound the alarm, the nation is being locked down into a militarized, mechanized, hypersensitive, legalistic, self-righteous, goose-stepping antithesis of every principle upon which this nation was founded.

All the while, the nation’s citizens seem content to buy into a carefully constructed, benevolent vision of life in America that bears little resemblance to the gritty, pain-etched reality that plagues those unfortunate enough to not belong to the rarefied elite.

For those whose minds have been short-circuited into believing the candy-coated propaganda peddled by the politicians, here is an A-to-Z, back-to-the-basics primer of what life in the United States of America is really all about.

A is for the AMERICAN POLICE STATE. As I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, a police state “is characterized by bureaucracy, secrecy, perpetual wars, a nation of suspects, militarization, surveillance, widespread police presence, and a citizenry with little recourse against police actions.”

B is for our battered BILL OF RIGHTS. In the cop culture that is America today, where you can be kicked, punched, tasered, shot, intimidated, harassed, stripped, searched, brutalized, terrorized, wrongfully arrested, and even killed by a police officer, and that officer is rarely held accountable for violating your rights, the Bill of Rights doesn’t amount to much.

C is for CIVIL ASSET FORFEITURE. The latest governmental scheme to deprive Americans of their liberties—namely, the right to property—is being carried out under the guise of civil asset forfeiture, a government practice wherein government agents (usually the police) seize private property they “suspect” may be connected to criminal activity. Then, whether or not any crime is actually proven to have taken place, the government keeps the citizen’s property.

D is for DRONES. It is estimated that at least 30,000 drones will be airborne in American airspace by 2020, part of an $80 billion industry. Although some drones will be used for benevolent purposes, many will also be equipped with lasers, tasers and scanning devices, among other weapons.

E is for ELECTRONIC CONCENTRATION CAMP. In the electronic concentration camp, as I have dubbed the surveillance state, all aspects of a person’s life are policed by government agents and all citizens are suspects, their activities monitored and regulated, their movements tracked, their communications spied upon, and their lives, liberties and pursuit of happiness dependent on the government’s say-so.

F is for FUSION CENTERS. Fusion centers, data collecting agencies spread throughout the country and aided by the National Security Agency, serve as a clearinghouse for information shared between state, local and federal agencies. These fusion centers constantly monitor our communications, everything from our internet activity and web searches to text messages, phone calls and emails. This data is then fed to government agencies, which are now interconnected: the CIA to the FBI, the FBI to local police.

G is for GRENADE LAUNCHERS. The federal government has distributed more than $18 billion worth of battlefield-appropriate military weapons, vehicles and equipment such as drones, tanks, and grenade launchers to domestic police departments across the country. As a result, most small-town police forces now have enough firepower to render any citizen resistance futile.

H is for HOLLOW-POINT BULLETS. The government’s efforts to militarize and weaponize its agencies and employees is reaching epic proportions, with federal agencies as varied as the Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration stockpiling millions of lethal hollow-point bullets, which violate international law. Ironically, while the government continues to push for stricter gun laws for the general populace, the U.S. military’s arsenal of weapons makes the average American’s handgun look like a Tinker Toy.

I is for the INTERNET OF THINGS, in which internet-connected “things” will monitor your home, your health and your habits in order to keep your pantry stocked, your utilities regulated and your life under control and relatively worry-free. The key word here, however, is control. This “connected” industry propels us closer to a future where police agencies apprehend virtually anyone if the government “thinks” they may commit a crime, driverless cars populate the highways, and a person’s biometrics are constantly scanned and used to track their movements, target them for advertising, and keep them under perpetual surveillance.

J is for JAILING FOR PROFIT. Having outsourced their inmate population to private prisons run by private corporations, this profit-driven form of mass punishment has given rise to a $70 billion private prison industry that relies on the complicity of state governments to keep their privately run prisons full by jailing large numbers of Americans for inane crimes.

K is for KENTUCKY V. KING. In an 8-1 ruling, the Supreme Court ruled that police officers can break into homes, without a warrant, even if it’s the wrong home as long as they think they have a reason to do so. Despite the fact that the police in question ended up pursuing the wrong suspect, invaded the wrong apartment and violated just about every tenet that stands between us and a police state, the Court sanctioned the warrantless raid, leaving Americans with little real protection in the face of all manner of abuses by law enforcement officials.

L is for LICENSE PLATE READERS, which enable law enforcement and private agencies to track the whereabouts of vehicles, and their occupants, all across the country. This data collected on tens of thousands of innocent people is also being shared between police agencies, as well as with fusion centers and private companies.

M is for MAIN CORE. Since the 1980s, the U.S. government has acquired and maintained, without warrant or court order, a database of names and information on Americans considered to be threats to the nation. As Salon reports, this database, reportedly dubbed “Main Core,” is to be used by the Army and FEMA in times of national emergency or under martial law to locate and round up Americans seen as threats to national security. As of 2008, there were some 8 million Americans in the Main Core database.

N is for NO-KNOCK RAIDS. Owing to the militarization of the nation’s police forces, SWAT teams are now increasingly being deployed for routine police matters. In fact, more than 80,000 of these paramilitary raids are carried out every year. That translates to more than 200 SWAT team raids every day in which police crash through doors, damage private property, terrorize adults and children alike, kill family pets, assault or shoot anyone that is perceived as threatening—and all in the pursuit of someone merely suspected of a crime, usually some small amount of drugs.

O is for OVERCRIMINALIZATION. Thanks to an overabundance of 4500-plus federal crimes and 400,000 plus rules and regulations, it’s estimated that the average American actually commits three felonies a day without knowing it. As a result of this overcriminalization, we’re seeing an uptick in Americans being arrested and jailed for such absurd “violations” as letting their kids play at a park unsupervised, collecting rainwater and snow runoff on their own property, growing vegetables in their yard, and holding Bible studies in their living room.

P is for PATHOCRACY. When our own government treats us as things to be manipulated, maneuvered, mined for data, manhandled by police, mistreated, and then jailed in profit-driven private prisons if we dare step out of line, we are no longer operating under a constitutional republic. Instead, what we are experiencing is a pathocracy: tyranny at the hands of a psychopathic government, which “operates against the interests of its own people except for favoring certain groups.”

Q is for QUALIFIED IMMUNITY. Qualified immunity allows officers to walk away without paying a dime for their wrongdoing. Conveniently, those deciding whether a police officer should be immune from having to personally pay for misbehavior on the job all belong to the same system, all cronies with a vested interest in protecting the police and their infamous code of silence: city and county attorneys, police commissioners, city councils and judges.

R is for ROADSIDE STRIP SEARCHES and BLOOD DRAWS. The courts have increasingly erred on the side of giving government officials—especially the police—vast discretion in carrying out strip searches, blood draws and even anal probes for a broad range of violations, no matter how minor the offense. In the past, strip searches were resorted to only in exceptional circumstances where police were confident that a serious crime was in progress. In recent years, however, strip searches have become routine operating procedures in which everyone is rendered a suspect and, as such, is subjected to treatment once reserved for only the most serious of criminals.

S is for the SURVEILLANCE STATE. On any given day, the average American going about his daily business will be monitored, surveilled, spied on and tracked in more than 20 different ways, by both government and corporate eyes and ears. A byproduct of this new age in which we live, whether you’re walking through a store, driving your car, checking email, or talking to friends and family on the phone, you can be sure that some government agency, whether the NSA or some other entity, is listening in and tracking your behavior. This doesn’t even begin to touch on the corporate trackers that monitor your purchases, web browsing, Facebook posts and other activities taking place in the cyber sphere.

T is for TASERS. Nonlethal weapons such as tasers, stun guns, rubber pellets and the like, have resulted in police using them as weapons of compliance more often and with less restraint—even against women and children—and in some instances, even causing death. These “nonlethal” weapons also enable police to aggress with the push of a button, making the potential for overblown confrontations over minor incidents that much more likely. A Taser Shockwave, for instance, can electrocute a crowd of people at the touch of a button.

U is for UNARMED CITIZENS SHOT BY POLICE. No longer is it unusual to hear about incidents in which police shoot unarmed individuals first and ask questions later, often attributed to a fear for their safety. Yet the fatality rate of on-duty patrol officers is reportedly far lower than many other professions, including construction, logging, fishing, truck driving, and even trash collection.

V is for VIPR SQUADS. So-called “soft target” security inspections, carried out by roving VIPR task forces, comprised of federal air marshals, surface transportation security inspectors, transportation security officers, behavior detection officers and explosive detection canine teams, are taking place whenever and wherever the government deems appropriate, at random times and places, and without needing the justification of a particular threat.

W is for WHOLE-BODY SCANNERS. Using either x-ray radiation or radio waves, scanning devices are being used not only to “see” through your clothes but government mobile units can drive by your home and spy on you within the privacy of your home. While these mobile scanners are being sold to the American public as necessary security and safety measures, we can ill afford to forget that such systems are rife with the potential for abuse, not only by government bureaucrats but by the technicians employed to operate them.

X is for X-KEYSCORE. One of the many spying programs carried out by the National Security Agency (NSA) that targets every person in the United States who uses a computer or phone. This top-secret program “allows analysts to search with no prior authorization through vast databases containing emails, online chats and the browsing histories of millions of individuals.”

Y is for YOU-NESS. Using your face, mannerisms, social media and “you-ness” against you, you can now be tracked based on what you buy, where you go, what you do in public, and how you do what you do. Facial recognition software promises to create a society in which every individual who steps out into public is tracked and recorded as they go about their daily business. The goal is for government agents to be able to scan a crowd of people and instantaneously identify all of the individuals present. Facial recognition programs are being rolled out in states all across the country.

Z is for ZERO TOLERANCE. We have moved into a new paradigm in which young people are increasingly viewed as suspects and treated as criminals by school officials and law enforcement alike, often for engaging in little more than childish behavior. In some jurisdictions, students have also been penalized under school zero tolerance policies for such inane “crimes” as carrying cough drops, wearing black lipstick, bringing nail clippers to school, using Listerine or Scope, and carrying fold-out combs that resemble switchblades.

As you can see, the warning signs are all around us. The question is whether you will organize, take a stand and fight for freedom, or will you, like so many clueless Americans, freely walk into the slaughterhouse?