FORFEITURE VICTIM STORIES
updated November 12, 2009
November 12, 2009:
Police property seizures ensnare even the
Money raised by Metro Detroit
agencies increases 50% in five years
George Hunter and Doug Guthrie / The
Local law enforcement agencies are raising millions of dollars by
seizing private property suspected in crimes, but often without charges
being filed -- and sometimes even when authorities admit no offense was
The money raised by confiscating goods in Metro Detroit soared more
than 50 percent to at least $20.62 million from 2003 to 2007, according
to a Detroit News analysis of records from 58 law enforcement agencies.
In some communities, amounts raised went from tens of thousands to
hundreds of thousands -- and, in one case, into the millions.
"It's like legalized stealing," said Jacque Sutton, a 21-year-old
college student from Mount Clemens whose 1989 Mustang was seized by
Detroit police raiding a party. Charges against him and more than 100
others were dropped, but he still paid more than $1,000 to get the car
"According to the law, I did nothing wrong -- but they're allowed to
take my property anyway. It doesn't make sense."
While courts have maintained the government's right to take property
involved in crimes, police seizures -- also known as forfeitures -- are
a growing source of friction in Michigan, especially as law enforcement
agencies struggle to balance budgets.
"Police departments right now are looking for ways to generate revenue,
and forfeiture is a way to offset the costs of doing business," said
Sgt. Dave Schreiner, who runs Canton Township's forfeiture unit, which
raised $343,699 in 2008. "You'll find that departments are doing more
forfeitures than they used to because they've got to -- they're running
out of money and they've got to find it somewhere."
rules sailboat formerly owned by President J. F. Kennedy not subject to
no right to sell the
sloop, nor does it have any right to pocket proceeds from that sale.
First the government obtained a forfeiture judgment against the Star
Class sloop “Flash II” without bothering to notify Dr. Kerry Lane, a
successful anesthesiologist and principle owner of the prized sailboat.
The Flash II was formerly owned by the young future president J.F.
Kennedy when he triumphed by an unprecedented four and a half minute
margin in the 1936 Atlantic Coast Championships.
Attorney Brenda Grantland achieved Dr. Lane’s first victory in this
case in August 2006, when the First Circuit Court of Appeals vacated
the default judgment that had been obtained in Dr. Lane’s absence.
The appeals court held that due process requires the government to at
least attempt to locate innocent owners with an interest in seized
property. The First Circuit remanded U.S.
v. One Star Class Sloop Sailbot Built
in 1930 Named Flash II
to the district court in Massachusetts for further proceedings in which
Dr. Lane had an opportunity to be heard. In the meantime,
however, the government sold
the sailboat at auction without a minimum reserve, causing the boat
to be sold at only about one tenth of it’s appraised value.
At trial the government conceded that Dr. Lane was totally innocent of
any wrongdoing or negligence. Nevertheless, the government argued that
Flash II was subject to forfeiture as proceeds traceable to drug money
pursuant to 18U.S.C. § 981(a)(1). Boat restorer Ole Anderson
had organized the consortium of investors who provided funding to
purchase and restore the Flash II. The government attempted to
support its theory that drug money could be traced to the Flash II
through its cooperating witness, Gary Milo, who had pleaded guilty to
trafficking 11,000 pounds of marijuana, for which he received a mere 18
days’ imprisonment due to his cooperation in building a forfeiture case
against the Flash II. Milo testified that during the course of
his lengthy illegal career he had hired Ole Anderson on a couple of
occasions and that he paid him $16,000.
Ms. Grantland argued that the government offered no more than mere
suspicion that any of the funds used by Ole Anderson to pay for
maintenance of the Flash II included any portion whatsoever of Gary
Milo’s $16,000 in tainted currency. If Gary Milo’s drug proceeds
became commingled with Ole Anderson’s untainted funds, “whether in a
bank account or in a tattered suitcase,” argued Grantland, “the
government's burden of showing that money in the account or an item
purchased with cash withdrawn therefrom is ‘traceable to’ illegal
activity will be difficult, if not impossible, to satisfy.”1 The
forfeiture statute’s term “traceable to” means exactly what it says,
Grantland continued in a post-trial memorandum, and the government's
theory of forfeitability fades away without a trace once Gary Milo's
drug money is transferred to Ole Anderson.
On October 1, 2007, the district
court ruled that, although the government’s contention that some of
the funds used to refurbish the Flash II are traceable to the drug
proceeds of the government’s cooperating witness Gary Milo is
“theoretically possible,” the government failed to carry its burden of
proof under the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 2000 (CAFRA).
Not only was Dr. Lane a completely innocent owner, but no portion
whatsoever of the sailboat seized and sold by the government had been
subject to forfeiture. “Accordingly,” District Judge William G. Young
ruled, “the sloop was not forfeitable. Because the sloop was not
forfeitable, the government had no interest in the sloop and therefore
no right to dispose of the sloop.”
from this case available to FEAR's
Brief Bank II
A few examples of recent creative asset
“Highway Robbery—One man's painful journey
through South Texas' addiction to asset forfeiture,”
Austin-based writer Jan Reida provides a detailed account of
“agreed judgments, ” by which South Texas police, “working the traffic
on U.S. 281 and finding reasons to search cars and trucks, ” intimidate
travelers into forfeiting all rights to contest the seizure of any
currency they have with them. (May 16, 2008 edition of the Texas Observer.)
the Sheriff of
Nottingham, the word of police became law across Bradenton.
We have recently seen a frightening increase the use of so-called
forfeiture “agreements” whereby police completely bypass any judicial
oversight. Until recently, for years police in Bradenton, Florida,
police frightened citizens into signing so-called “forfeiture
agreements” that waive all rights to contest the forfeiture of whatever
currency police discover during a road side stop.
Bradenton’s Herald-Tribune examined the City’s forfeiture agreement
program and “found cases in which police took money from people who
were arrested on crimes other than drug charges, or who were not
arrested at all. Several people said they did not know what they were
A Florida Court ordered the City of Bradenton to either return $10,020
seized in 2006 from Delane Johnson pursuant to such an “agreement,” or
to properly pursue a forfeiture proceeding through the courts. Police
had no evidence that Johnson was a drug dealer, thief, or had committed
any crime whatsoever. But, suspicious of a black man in possession of a
large amount of cash, and very desirous of that money, Bradenton police
arrested Johnson on an obscure misdemeanor charge: failing to report a
business transaction that exceeds $10,000. Prosecutors refused to file
the bogus charge. But while police still had Johnson in custody with no
lawyer, they got him to sign a form giving them that $10,020.
Attorney Varinia Van Ness took Johnson’s case to court. Judge Peter
Dubensky called the City's use of the contract form "unconscionable"
and said it used false pretenses to trick Johnson into a senseless
agreement. The city had no basis for even seeking forfeiture, the judge
wrote, and "should have known its defense was frivolous." In addition
to ordering return of the money, Judge Dubensky ordered the City to pay
attorney Van Ness’ fees in the amount of $7,490.
The City of Bradenton appealed. A Florida appellate
court vacated the judgment, based upon its finding that Johnson’s
writ of mandamus was not an appropriate legal avenue for return of the
money, nor to determine whether the City had a right to use forfeiture
contracts generally. But the appeals court invited Johnson to return to
the lower court to continue his fight for due process and
Seeing the futility of continuing its frivolous defense on remand back
at the lower court, the City pulled off its final underhanded blow in
the case. The Bradenton police chief declared a “complete
victory” regarding the appeals court reversal of Judge Dubensky’s court
order to return the cash and pay attorney fees. But the City then
suddenly returned Johnson’s money plus interest to him—and thus avoided
paying attorney Van Ness’s initial court ordered fees of $7,490
plus her fees and costs incurred litigating the City’s appeal.
(See: Herald Tribune, “Lawyer gets ‘paid’ for fighting Bradenton.”
The original court order for return of money plus attorney fees,
holding Bradenton’s use of strong arm forfeiture agreements to be an
unconstitutional violation of due process remains vacated.
Meanwhile, a little farther north in Texas, according to according to a
November 2003 Dallas Morning News article, Dallas cops will let
you go if you if you won't fight their seizure of your goods,
the North Central Texas Narcotics Task Force struck deals with a man
who beat his prostitutes and forced them to have his name tattooed on
their bodies, another who cooked an estimated half-million dollars
worth of methamphetamine, a cocaine dealer, and others for lighter
punishments in exchange for cash, cars, motorcycles, jewelry and other
property that the task force needed to fund its operations. These
criminals each received sentences of probation in exchange for not
contesting the forfeiture of assets used to fund the task force. Denver
McCarty, a former task force prosecutor, said he offered the deals to a
half-dozen defendants during the last two years because the task force
needed the money to stay in business.
"If we don't have enough money by the end of the grant year, we're all
out of a job," he said. "You kind of knew what kind of forfeiture money
you needed to have, or everybody's going home."
"I think it looks bad," said Bruce McFarling, a former North Central
Texas task force prosecutor who is now a state district judge in Denton
County. "It would be a matter of, we're letting criminals go because
they're paying property. Someone with more property will get a better
deal than someone else."
Because these buy-offs from criminal prosecution are usually made in
private it’s difficult to gauge how widespread such exchanges of prison
time for forfeiture deals have become. But according the Dallas Morning
News, “published reports indicate this type of private
buy-your-way-out-of-jail deals occurred in New York, Massachusetts,
Ohio, Arkansas and Wisconsin during the time period immediately
preceding the November 2003 article.
"It just keeps going on. What's to stop it?" David B. Smith,
co-chairman of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers'
Forfeiture Abuse Task Force told the Dallas Morning News in 2003. "Each
DA has his own little fiefdom. If he's elected, there's no one above
him who can stop it except the public."
Ohio: Civil Asset Forfeiture - The story of Earl Cavin Sr.
Is So HarshThat Forfeiture Seems
Story of the Avery Family of Kentucky
A Memorial to Donald Scott
On October 2, 1992 Malibu California millionaire
was shot to death inside his own home, during a raid by Los Angeles
Department and agents from five federal law enforcement agencies. ...
The report of the Ventura County District Attorney, Michael Bradbury,
that the police lied to obtain the search warrant, that there had never
been any marijuana cultivation on the property, and that the raid was
by a desire to forfeit the multi-million dollar ranch. Despite the DA's
dramatic conclusions, no officer was ever indicted, or even lightly
for the lies or the killing.
One Victim of Forfeiture Abuse
Long time FEAR member, Jo Anne Dews, loses her forfeiture case, and IRS
pounces, by Tom Flook.
Tom and Barbara
Rowland Have Happy Ending, by Tom Flook
of Dr. Richard Low,
M.D., by Bob Bauman
Victim Fights Back,
story of forfeiture victim James Guiffre
victim wins back money from state franchise tax board)by Kathy Bergman
Victim Thanks FEAR for Our Work
On Double Jeopardy, by Sunni Liston
Bail Bonds by John
Story by Suzanne ("Sunni") Liston
by John Paff