Tuesday, January 20, 2015

U.S. Attorney General Tells Corrupt Towns/Cops To Stop Stealing Stuff

A few, but certainly not all police departments
and prosecutors basically steal money
through "civil forfeiture" to fund their departments 
If you or I stood on some rural road somewhere, forced a passing motorist to give us his money, we'd be arrested and locked up for robbery.

However, a few corrupt police departments and towns and prosecutors have been doing just that, all perfectly legal.

Or at least they say it's perfectly legal.

Basically, a lot of them seize property and money for fun and profit, mostly profit, without any attempt at due process. Many of the seizures are from people who are innocent.

It's called civil forfeiture. I'd have no problem with this if someone were convicted of a crime, and their ill-begotten assets were sold and divied up between prosecutors, police departments and other government agencies.

But the key word here is convicted. Corrupt prosecutors and law enforcement agencies are seizing money and property from people all the time without these people even having been charged with a crime, much less convicted of one.

You'd think this would be unconstitutional, but people seem to be getting away with it.

Finally this past week, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is kinda, sort of putting a halt to that sort of thing. But it's been really out of hand and Holder's actions only go so far.

One of the bests primers on this robbery by cop and prosecutor racket came last September when the Washington Post had a lengthy article about what I might call a seizure police-industrial complex, in which police just basically steal money from unsuspecting motorist.


Let's get into the infuriating Washington Post article. 

It all started in the aftermath of the September, 2001 terrorist attacks, in which local police were encouraged to focus more on searching suspicious people, drugs and other iffy activities they come across.

But then it morphed. According to the Post:

"......the spread of an aggressive brand of policing that has spurred the seizure of hundreds of millions of dollars in cash from motorists and others not charged with crimes.......Thousands of people have been forced to fight legal battles that can last more than a year to get their money back."

It gets worse:

"Behind the rise in seizures is a little-known cottage industry of private police training firms that teach the techniques of 'highway interdiction' to departments across the country.

"One of those firms created a private intelligence network known as Black Asphalt Electronic Networking and Notification System that enabled police nationwide to share detailed reports about American motorists. - criminals and the innocent alike - including their Social Security numbers, addresses, and identfying tattoos, as well as hunches about which drivers to stop."

Some federal and state officials shave warned this network is probably unconstitutional, but Constitution, Schmonstitution when there's money to be made, or more accurately put, stolen.

"A thriving subculture of road offices on the network now compete to see who can seize the most ash and contraband, describing their exploits in the network's chat rooms and sharing 'trophy shots' of money and drugs. Some police advocate highway interdiction as a way of raising revenue for cash strapped municipalities."

And here's a damning quote in the Washington Post article:

"All of our home towns are sitting on a tax-liberating gold mine," Deputy Ron Hain of Kane County, Illinois wrote in a self-published book under a psedonym. Hain is a marketing specalist for Desert Snow, a leading interdiction training form based in Guthrie Oklahoma, whose founder also created Black Asphalt."

I thought prosecutors and cops were in the law enforcement business, not an extortion racket.

The Post said there have been nearly 62,000 cash seizures made on highways and elsewhere since September, 2001 without search warrants or indictments. A total of $2.5 billion was collected, and state and local agencies were able to keep $1.7 billion of that.

So again, no warrants, no court trials, no due process. Police just took money from people because they thought they were guilty. Or pretended to think they were guilty.

This money and property seizure crime spree, as I like to describe it, has been going on for years, with or without that Black Asphalt intelligence gathering crap.

Some examples:

Back in 2009, Wayne County, Michigan forced a woman named Krista Vaughn to pay $1,400 to get her car back, which had been seized by police after they mistook the woman's co-worker in the car for a prostitute. No charges were filed, but she still had to pay, said the Detroit News. 

It turns out Wayne County regularly did this sort of thing, collecting up to $8 million a year, often in cases in which nobody was charged with a crime, the Detroit News said.

Tellingly, Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy would only provide a written statement saying 'If people are soliciting prostitutes, selling drugs or otherwise profiting from criminal activity, as prosecutors we have the right under the law to forfeit property.'

Notice that jerk Worthy (with the totally unworthy last name) didn't even address all the cases of innocent people, and she was far too much of a total wimp to be interviewed.

Back in 2011, authorities try to take a Tewksbury, Mass. motel worth $1 million away from its owners, Russ Caswell and his family, said the Institute for Justice, who helped defend the family. The try by prosecutors and police to seize the property came about because over 14 years, authorities made 15 drug arrests at the motel. During that time, more than 200,000 people stayed at the hotel.

The Caswells were never accused of participating in any crimes, or turning a blind eye to crimes. In fact, everyone acknowledges, the Caswells fully cooperated with police during investigations.

But, probably for the profit motive, police and prosecutors tried to seize the motel.

Thankfully, in 2013, a federal judge put a stop to the forfeiture and let the Caswells keep their property. The judge said police and prosecutors grossly exaggerated the evidence and had no authority to seize the property.

People can fight back, but that takes lawyers, time, legal expertise, and money, assuming they have any left after the cops stole their cash. Even when people fight back and are successful, the damage is done.

Like the people the Post cited:

--A 55 year old Chinese American stopped for speeding on Interstate 10 in Alabama had with him $75,000 raised by relatives so he could buy a restaurant. The dirty cops seized the money, and by the time he got it back, it was way too late for the restaurant deal.

---Mandrel Stuart, 35, said police took $17,550 from him during a minor traffic stop in Fairfax, Virginia. He turned down a settlement offer from the government for half the money because he didnt do anything wrong other than a minor traffic problem so what right did they have to take his money.

Stuart too the case to a jury and won, 'natch, but he lost his business. That's because he couldn't pay overhead after the cops stole the $17,550 from him.

The police will say they didn't steal it, but how else can you describe it?  It's just as bad as if police robbed a bank.


Not all police departments, prosecutors and local governments are in on this racket. Many refuse to participate, citing Constitutional, legal and ethical concerns.

The Washington Post quoted this guy:

"Those laws were meant to take a guy out for selling $1 million in cocaine or who was trying to launder large amounts of money," said Mark Overton, the police chief in Bal Harbor, Fla,. who once oversaw a federal drug task force in South Florida. "It was never meant for a street cop to take a few thousand dollars from a driver by the side of the road."

State law enforcement officials in Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas and other places backed away from this Black Asphalt idiocy because of Constitutional worries, the Post said

Finally, as I mentioned, one of the other good cops in this saga stepped in. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, is stepping down soon, but he's been taking a flurry of actions against some unconstitutional crap.

Holder's move doesn't go all the way in stopping this "legal" crime syndicate. But it's a start. Holder said police departments can no longer do this civil forfeiture thing unless it's related to a specific warrant or charge.

It might have been better had Holder limited to forfeiture to cases in which there was a criminal conviction, but like I said, it's a start.

I get it. All police departments and prosecutors' offices need adequate funding to truly go after the bad guys and gals.

But it doesn't exactly raise confidence in the criminal justice system when cops and prosecutors steal money to get the funds to arrest people who steal money.

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