Watchman Willie Martin Archive

                                                             Courts / Police Profit From Confiscations

                                                                          The Looting of America

How over 200 Civil Asset Forfeiture laws enable police to confiscate your home, bank accounts & business without trial.

A police dog scratched at your luggage, so we’re confiscating your life savings and you’ll never get it back.’ Police stopped 49‑year‑old Ethel Hylton at Houston’s Hobby Airport and told her she was under arrest because a drug dog had scratched at her luggage. Agents searched her bags and strip‑searched her, but they found no drugs. They did find $39,110 in cash, money she had received from an insurance settlement and her life savings; accumulated through over 20 years of work as a hotel housekeeper and hospital janitor. Ethel Hylton completely documented where she got the money and was never charged with a crime. But the police kept her money anyway. Nearly four years later, she is still trying to get her money back.

Ethel Hylton is just one of a large and growing list of Americans – now numbering in the hundreds of thousands; who have been victimized by civil asset forfeiture. Under civil asset forfeiture, every‑thing you own can be legally taken away even if you are never convicted of a crime.

Suspicion of offenses which, if proven in court, might result in a $200 fine or probation, are being used to justify seizure of tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of property. Totally innocent Americans are losing their cars, homes and businesses, based on the claims of anonymous informants that illegal transactions took place on their property. Once property is seized, it is virtually impossible to get it back.

Property is now being seized in every state and from every social group. Seizures include pocket money confiscated from public‑housing residents in Florida; cars taken away from men suspected of soliciting prostitutes in Oregon; and homes taken away from ordinary, middle class Americans whose teenage children are accused of selling a few joints of marijuana. No person and no property is immune from seizure. You could be the next victim. Here are some examples:

In Washington, D.C. police stop black men on the streets in poor areas of the city, and "routinely confiscate small amounts of cash and jewelry". Most confiscated property is not even recorded by police departments. "Resident Ben Davis calls it ‘robbery with a badge.’" [USA Today, 5/18/92]

In Iowa, "a woman accused of shoplifting a $25 sweater had her $18,000 car – specially equipped for her handicapped daughter – seized as the ‘getaway vehicle’." [USA Today, 5/18/92]

Detroit drug police raided a grocery store, but failed to find any drugs. After drug dogs reacted to three $1.00 bills in the cash register, the police seized $4,384 from cash registers and the store safe. According to the Pittsburgh Press, over 92% of all cash in circulation in the U.S. now shows some drug residue.

In Monmouth, New Jersey, Dr. David Disbrow was accused of practicing psychiatry without a license. His crime was providing counseling services from a spare bedroom in his mother’s house. Counseling does not require a license in New Jersey. That didn’t stop police from seizing virtually everything of value from his mother’s home, totaling over $60,000. The forfeiture squad confiscated furniture, carpets, paintings, and even personal photographs.

Kathy and Mark Schrama were arrested just before Christmas 1990 at their home in New Jersey. Kathy was charged with taking $500 worth of UPS packages from neighbors’ porches. Mark was charged with receiving stolen goods. If found guilty, they might have paid a small fine and received probation. The day after their arrest, their house, cars and furniture were seized. Based upon mere accusation, $150,000 in property was confiscated, without trial or indictment. Police even took their clothing, eyeglasses, and Christmas presents for their 10‑year‑old son.

The incentive for government agencies to expand forfeiture is enormous. Agencies can easily seize property and they usually keep what they take. According to the Pittsburgh Press, 80% of seizure victims are never even charged with a crime. Law enforcement agencies often keep the best seized cars, watches and TVs for their "departments", and sell the rest.

How extensive are seizures in America today? The Washington Post has reported that the U.S. Marshals Service alone had an inventory of over $1.4 billion in seized assets, including over 30,000 cars, boats, homes and businesses. Federal and state agencies seizing property now include the FBI, the DEA, the U.S. Marshals Service, the Coast Guard, the IRS, local police, highway patrol, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, FDA, and the Bureau of Land Management. Asset forfeiture is a growth industry. Seizures have increased from $27 million in 1986, to over $644 million in 1991 to over $2 billion today.

Civil asset forfeiture defines a new standard of justice in America; or more precisely, a new standard of injustice. Under civil seizure, property, not an individual is charged with an offense. Even if you are a totally innocent owner, the government can still confiscate your ‘‘guilty’’ property.

If government agents seize your property under civil asset forfeiture, you can forget about being innocent until proven guilty, due process of law, the right to an attorney, or even the right to trial. All of those rights only exist if you are charged with a criminal offense; that is, with an offense which could result in your imprisonment. If you (or your property) are accused of a civil offense (offenses which could not result in your imprisonment), the Supreme Count has ruled that you have no presumption of innocence, no right to an attorney, and no protection from double jeopardy.

Seizure occurs when government takes away your property. Forfeiture is when legal title is permanently transferred to the state. To get seized property returned, you have to fight the full resources of your state or federal government; sometimes both! You have to prove your property’s "innocence" by documenting how you earned every cent used to pay for it. You have to prove that neither you nor any of your family members ever committed an illegal act involving the property.

To get a trial, you have to post a non‑refundable "bond" of 10% of the value of your property. You have to pay attorney fees – ranging from $5,000 to over $100,000; out of your own pocket. Money you pay your attorney is also subject to seizure (either before or after the trial) if the government alleges that those funds were "tainted". And you may be forced to go through trial after trial, because under civil seizure the Constitutional protection against "double jeopardy" doesn’t apply. Once your property is seized, expect to spend years fighting government agencies and expect to be impoverished by legal fees with no guarantee of winning while the government keeps your car, home and bank account.

In fact, in a recent Supreme Court decision (Bennis v. Michigan), the Court said explicitly that innocent owners can be deprived of their property if it's used to facilitate a crime, even without the owner's knowledge or consent. That means you can now lose your home or business because of the action of employees, relatives, or guests, over whom you have absolutely no control.

                                                               Police and prosecutors have incentive

                                                                 to confiscate as much as possible.

Not only do police and prosecutors have the power to seize anything you own on the slightest pretext, they also have the incentive. The dirty little secret of the forfeiture racket is that police, prosecutors and judges can benefit personally by stealing your property.

Brenda Grantland; America’s leading asset forfeiture defense attorney, gives these examples of government greed in her book Your House Is Under Arrest:

Suffolk County, NY. District Attorney James M. Catterton drives around in a BMW 735I that was seized from an alleged drug dealer. He spent $3,412 from the forfeiture fund for mechanical and body work, including $75 for pin‑striping.

Warren County, NJ. The assistant chief prosecutor drives a confiscated yellow Corvette.

Little Compton, RI. The seven member police force received $3.8 million from the federal forfeiture fund, and spent it on such things as a new 23‑foot boat with trailer, and new Pontiac Firebirds.

But that's just the tip of the iceberg. The head of one Los Angeles police forfeiture squad claims his group personally pocketed over $60 million in seized property.

Why do our courts tolerate these outrageous legalized thefts? Because they get their cut. It's completely legal for confiscated property to be used by police, prosecutors and judges, so long as it's for official business. In 1996, a federal district court even ruled that police can personally receive 25% of the value of any confiscated home, car, or business.

This happens because of those who are elected into offices of trust are betraying their constituents. They run to pass these laws and pat each other on the back and say what a wonderful thing they have done to fight crime. Never looking to see the evil that they have created.

                                                                        Some Police Will Kill You

                                                                             For Your Property

In Malibu, California, park police tried repeatedly to buy the home and land of 61‑year‑old, retired rancher Don Scott, which was next to national parkland. Scott refused. On the morning of October 2, 1992, a task force of 26 LA county sheriffs, DEA agents and other cops broke into Scott's living room. When he heard his wife, Frances, scream, he came out of his upstairs bedroom with a gun over his head. Police yelled at him to lower his gun. He did, and they shot him dead.

Police claimed to be searching for marijuana which they never found. Ventura County DA Michael Bradbury concluded that the raid was "motivated at least in part, by a desire to seize and forfeit the ranch for the government... [The] search warrant became Donald Scott’s death warrant."

* On August 25, 1992, Donald Carison's home in California was invaded by Drug Enforcement Administra-tion agents after midnight. Mr. Carlson reached for his hand gun to defend his home - the DEA shot him dead. No drugs were found.

* The DEA visited Donald Scott in October, bringing along the L.A. Sheriff's Department. Breaking into his house at night, the deputy sheriff shot Scott and killed him. No illegal drugs were found. The DA found that the raid was motivated by the desire of the officers to seize the Scott's ranch under federal asset-forfeiture laws.

* During a Bible Study meeting at Art and Louise Tingley's home on June 6, 1995, shortly before 5:00 p.m. in Federal Way, Washington, when the King County Police force swat team converged with other officials to "tactically secure the home of 70 year old retired Northwest Airline pilot and W.W. II Veteran. The King County swat team had 'no arrest warrant, no paperwork at all,'" the Tingleys did have a case pending in King County Superior court, which included a jurisdictional challenge of a pending writ of restitution. The Tingleys had no guns on the premises, nor own guns, neither did any of the people who were at the Bible Study, all were unarmed. "There were no warrants or papers ever served by the King County Police or the swat team on the Tingleys June 6, 1995. No charges were ever mentioned by the King County police on the swat team, nor was any probable cause for the raid ever given!"

* On September 1991, 60 agents from the DEA, ATF, National Guard, and the U.S. Forest Service stormed the home of Mrs. Sina Brush and two neighbors at dawn. She and her daughter were made to kneel and were handcuffed while dressed only in their underwear. No drugs were found.

* On August 25, 1992 at about 10:30 p.m. Donald Carlson returned to his home in Poway, California, opened his garage door with a remote control device, simultaneously illuminating the garage so that Drug Enforcement Administration agents conducting surveillance from nearby could see inside. Just after midnight, when Carlson was asleep, a group of DEA agents burst into his house. Thinking they were robbers, Carlson grabbed his pistol to defend himself. He also dialed 911 for help. The agents shot Carlson three times, twice after he was down and clearly disabled. Carlson spent seven weeks in intensive care, fighting for his life. No drugs were found on the premises.

It was later learned that the Federal Customs Service, the DEA and the U.S. Attorney's Office in San Diego had relied on an informant who was known to be untrustworthy and who claimed Carlson's garage contained 2,500 kilograms of cocaine (a large amount which would have taken up most of the garage) and four armed guards. The agents conducted the raid in spite of the fact they could see the informant's information was erroneous. As of this writing, none of the federal agents involved in the incident have been sanctioned nor has Mr. Carlson been compensated for his injuries.

* Janice Hart pulled up to her house from grocery shopping with her daughters to find her house being ransacked by ATF agents who had kicked in the door. Agents searched her home, throwing dishes, pulling clothing from hangers and emptying drawers on the floor (she photographed the damage). Some eight ATF agents interrogated her in the basement for an hour before reading her her rights. She asked to call an attorney and the agents refused to allow her to do so. When they finally asked her if she was Janice Marie Harrell, she told them no, that she was Janice Hart. ATF agents mocked her, accused her of selling firearms and cocaine, then arrested her. The Portland Police, who she commended for their professional demeanor, took her downtown for booking and, Within thirty minutes of fingerprinting here, realized ATF had the wrong person!

* Last summer (1994) the ATF visited Harry Lumplugh in Pennsylvania. Twenty of the ATF force his wife and him to open safes and hand over private papers while holding a machine gun on them. Bored, they stomped the Lumplughs cat to death. No charges were ever brought against the Lumplughs.

* Last year (1994) four ATF agents raided the bedroom of Monique Montgomery at 4:00 a.m. She reached for a gun and was shot to death. Nothing illegal was found.

* The ATF raided the home of Louis Katona III in Ohio. They roughed up his pregnant wife causing her to miscarry. Nothing illegal was found.

There is also the death of John Singer, at the hands of government agents, the homes-schooler in Utah; Gordon Kahl; Arthur Kirk, the Nebraska farmer; Robert Matthews; and recently Tigerto, Wisconsin.

Mr. Francis comments: "In none of the cases I know about have any of the federal agents been charged; few have been disciplined; almost none made the national news."

He goes on: "Congress...should find out who authorized these and similar raids and who committed these atrocities against law-abiding citizens. It should abolish the agencies responsible, and it should make certain that the tyrants and murderers in federal uniform who planned, authorized or committed these crimes are brought to justice."

If the out-of-control FBI and ATF had been disbanded following Waco, there would have been no "mini-Wacos" and no reason for an Oklahoma City payback.

Is this what you really want for Texans? I don’t really think so, so why don’t you get to work and at least protect our Texas people from the unlawful, immoral laws. This week (October 10/23-10/27/2000 the Federal Government has passed a law allowing the police to enter your or my home, without a warrent, seize whatever they desire, and never ask or even allow you to know who stole the property or papers. Is that What you really want? You mut remember that when you leave office all these terrible laws will apply to you, just as they do to us today.

Reference Materials