By Anthony Johnson
Asset forfeiture is the process by which the government may confiscate or seize property from private citizens when their property is utilized in the commission of a crime or was bought using such ill-gotten gains. Unfortunately, the process has become more and more prevalent and abused as cash-strapped law enforcement agencies have a financial interest in seizing valuable property from citizens, including those who have committed absolutely no crime themselves.
Abuse of law enforcement powers has become a national epidemic, eroding our civil liberties and wasting hard-earned tax dollars.
Recently, the DEA and the Missouri Highway Patrol instigated civil asset forfeiture proceedings against the land and money owned by local musician Jimmy Tebeau. Tebeau, a member of the Schwag, a Grateful Dead cover band, hosts Schwagstock, a music festival on his 350 acres of land. Teabeau’s crime? None, but allegedly drug use occurs there. I know, it is very shocking that drug use occurs at any concert or music festival. If allowed, civil forfeiture proceedings could be instigated against every single concert venue in the state.
Such abuses of government power are not uncommon and are only likely to continue as law enforcement agencies are seeing an easy way to pad their budgets. These abuses unite many on the left and the right who are wary extreme governmental power, but asset forfeiture doesn’t seem to resonate as a major issue with Middle America. However, such extreme abuses are occurring that everyday citizens might just start noticing and speaking out.
Conservative columnist George Will, who I am guessing is not a Deadhead regular at Schwagstock festivals, publicizes a recent abuse from Tewksberry, Massachusetts, where Russ Caswell’s family-owned motel has been sued by the United States as the federal government attempts to seize the $1.5 million property from its owners, despite the fact that the owners haven’t been accused of any crime. The government’s argument is that the property should be seized because allegedly 30 motel customers have been involved with drug dealing. The government doesn’t even care that the motel owners installed security cameras, photocopy every customer’s identification, record all license plate numbers and turn over any information when it’s requested by law enforcement.
Asset forfeiture is even more egregious when local law enforcement agencies circumvent state law and turn over these cases to the federal government, utilizing the fact that federal asset forfeiture proceedings have fewer protections for citizens than their state law. Whenever state’s like Massachusetts pass asset forfeiture reforms, police agencies like the Tewksberry Police Department will turn to the feds to carry out the proceedings and the feds will keep a 20% “finder’s fee” while the local department keeps 80%.
From George Will’s column:
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.
“What country are we in?” Russ Caswell is asking. What country indeed, Mr. Caswell? What country will we become, if more people don’t protest these abuses carried out by our very own government?
Article from National Cannabis Coalition and republished with special permission