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“Civil Asset Forfeiture” coming soon to a neighborhood near you…

May 22, 2012

When the looter is the government:

By George Will

May 18, 2012

TEWKSBURY, Mass.

Russ Caswell, 68, is bewildered: “What country are we in?” He and his wife, Pat, are ensnared in a Kafkaesque nightmare unfolding in Orwellian language.

This town’s police department is conniving with the federal government to circumvent Massachusetts law — which is less permissive than federal law — to seize his livelihood and retirement asset. In the lawsuit titled United States of America v. 434 Main Street, Tewksbury, Massachusetts, the government is suing an inanimate object, the motel Caswell’s father built in 1955. The U.S. Department of Justice intends to seize it, sell it for perhaps $1.5 million and give up to 80 percent of that to the Tewksbury Police Department, whose budget is just $5.5 million. The Caswells have not been charged with, let alone convicted of, a crime. They are being persecuted by two governments eager to profit from what is antiseptically called the “equitable sharing” of the fruits of civil forfeiture, a process of government enrichment that often is indistinguishable from robbery.

The Merrimack River Valley near the New Hampshire border has had more downs than ups since the 19th century, when the nearby towns of Lowell and Lawrence were centers of America’s textile industry. In the 1960s the area briefly enjoyed a high-tech boom. Caswell’s “budget” motel, too, has seen better days, as when the touring Annette Funicello and the Mouseketeers checked in. In its sixth decade the motel hosts tourists, some workers on extended stays and some elderly people who call it home. The 56 rooms rent for $56 a night or $285 a week.

Since 1994, about 30 motel customers have been arrested on drug-dealing charges. Even if those police figures are accurate — the police have a substantial monetary incentive to exaggerate — these 30 episodes involved less than 5/100ths of 1 percent of the 125,000 rooms Caswell has rented over those more than 6,700 days. Yet this is the government’s excuse for impoverishing the Caswells by seizing this property, which is their only significant source of income and all of their retirement security.

The government says the rooms were used to “facilitate” a crime. It does not say the Caswells knew or even that they were supposed to know what was going on in all their rooms all the time. Civil forfeiture law treats citizens worse than criminals, requiring them to prove their innocence — to prove they did everything possible to prevent those rare crimes from occurring in a few of those rooms. What counts as possible remains vague. The Caswells voluntarily installed security cameras, they photocopy customers’ identifications and record their license plates, and they turn the information over to the police, who have never asked the Caswells to do more.

The Caswells are represented by the Institute for Justice, a libertarian public-interest law firm. IJ explains that civil forfeiture is a proceeding in which property is said to have acted wrongly. This was useful long ago against pirates, who might be out of reach but whose ill-gotten gains could be seized. The Caswells, however, are not pirates.

Rather, they are victims of two piratical governments that, IJ argues, are violating the U.S. Constitution twice. They are violating the Eighth Amendment, which has been construed to forbid “excessive fines” that deprive individuals of their livelihoods. And the federal “equitable sharing” program violates the 10th Amendment by vitiating state law, thereby enabling Congress to compel the states to adopt Congress’s policies where states possess a reserved power and primary authority — in the definition and enforcement of the criminal law.

A federal drug agent operating in this region roots around in public records in search of targets — property with at least $50,000 equity. Caswell thinks that if his motel “had a big mortgage, this would not be happening.”

“Equitable sharing” — the consensual splitting of ill-gotten loot by the looters — reeks of the moral hazard that exists in situations in which incentives are for perverse behavior. To see where this leads, read IJ’s scalding report “Policing for Profit: The Abuse of Civil Asset Forfeiture” (http://ow.ly/aYME1), a sickening litany of law enforcement agencies padding their budgets and financing boondoggles by, for example, smelling, or imagining to smell, or pretending to smell, marijuana in cars they covet.

None of this is surprising to Madisonians, which all sensible Americans are. James Madison warned (in Federalist 48) that government power “is of an encroaching nature.” If unresisted, it produces iniquitous sharing of other people’s property.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/when-government-is-the-looter/2012/05/18/gIQAUIKVZU_story.html

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9 Comments
  1. May 22, 2012 12:14 pm

    Yay, George Will gets one right. This has been going on a long time and it’s about time it came to light. Thing is, the police always seize assets of those too poor to fight back in court. This would never have happened to a Ramada Inn, no matter what was going on there. I’m glad this couple got the help they need. Cops do this to motorists all the time, as Will points out. The cars/trucks/motorhomes end up in the hands of friends of the police, who get the money they are sold for. What a country, God help us.

  2. dailypuma permalink
    May 23, 2012 12:57 am

    I guess I’ll have to post this on my occupynews.net blog.

  3. dailypuma permalink
    May 23, 2012 12:58 am

    You should check out my share it options on all of my blogs, I can’t share this from your blog onto my google blogs, yet if you added the right share option, I probably could.

  4. May 23, 2012 8:09 am

    Hi Alex,
    I haven’t kept up with the share it options because I’m not a member of FB and never access my Google membership options. I will ck out your share options on DP though- I have stumbl(?) as an option on WP…

  5. May 23, 2012 8:37 am

    Yay, George Will gets one right. This has been going on a long time and it’s about time it came to light. Thing is, the police always seize assets of those too poor to fight back in court. This would never have happened to a Ramada Inn, no matter what was going on there. I’m glad this couple got the help they need. Cops do this to motorists all the time, as Will points out. The
    cars/trucks/motorhomes end up in the hands of friends of the police, who get the money they are sold for. What a country, God help us.
    _______________

    I was surprised GW decided to advocate for an ordinary citizen that was least likely to benefit his career!

    Theres a new reality series on tv, Baggage Battles(?) Where confiscated assets from drug offenses and any other criminal activity allowing confiscation of personal assets are up for public auction. Episodes include assets from whatever police dept is cashing in their evidence room and monthly auctions open to the public for lost unclaimed luggage from the airlines held in their central location in Atlanta. Sadly, The series seems to be catching on-

    It seems that any of our laws and regulations are available for the O Administration’s interpretation. Sort of reminds me of Soros’ early life history, where he learned picking over the bodies of dead and dying Jews, taking all the gold he could rifle from their bodies, was a lucrative way of earning a living. Call me a softee, but I have the same feeling for not entertaining the idea of purchasing foreclosed property. Where an unknown family became the victims of egregious bankers taking their homes and reselling their homes for current market value which is about 33% lower than it’s original value.

    Our world has become a SICK, SICK, SICK society-
    A kinder gentler nation was just a dream, once upon a time… for our families…

  6. May 23, 2012 7:36 pm

    America, scavenger nation 😦
    That’s really gross about Soros.

  7. May 24, 2012 8:07 am

    Even as a young boy, knowing his dis-compassion for a suffering people, his behavior towards humanity has never evolved. As an elderly man with unlimited resources, he had a choice- Use his great wealth for the benefit of mankind becoming a well revered hero of his time. He chose to be the Darth Vader of the 20th and 21st century forever reviled as a low brow money exchanger. Generating wealth for his masters and his family in purple perpetuity at the expense of humanity. Who will never know his name or his agenda for personal aggrandizement lining his pockets with their souls and their blood.

  8. August 24, 2012 10:06 pm

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  9. August 25, 2012 3:22 am

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Comments are closed.