The new group researched newspaper articles looking for stories about forfeiture victims, and began recruiting the victims. F.E.A.R. began picking up members from every political persuasion, and from across the country. A number of the early members were victims and forfeiture reform advocates "discovered" by Andrew Schneider and Mary Pat Flaherty in their seminal expose "Presumed Guilty." Some of the activists featured in Presumed Guilty later became active in F.E.A.R., including FEAR Board President, Brenda Grantland, Mill Valley, CA; former F.E.A.R. Board Members Eric Sterling, JD; Jeffrey Steinborn, Seattle, WA; and FEAR founder, John Paff, NJ.
As its first order of business, FEAR began lobbying Congress for forfeiture reform to restore due process. Several Congressmen were interested in forfeiture reform and in the early spring of 1992, we were told hearings would be held in the Senate Judiciary Committee. When those hearings were cancelled, Rep. John Conyers took up the torch. He agreed to hold hearings on forfeiture abuse in the House Government Operations Committee, which he chaired.
The first Congressional hearing was held in the Government Operations Committee on September 29, 1992. Many FEAR members drove to D.C., or begged money to buy a plane ticket, to attend. Two FEAR members testified at the first hearings -- Carl and Mary Shelden. Willie Jones, the Nashville nurseryman who was featured in Presumed Guilty was the first victim speaker. Mary Shelden came second, delivering a very moving speech about her travails as an innocent lienholder of property forfeited to the government. When Mary stopped, and sobbed, in the middle of saying "no amount of money could ever make up for what the government did to us" she took down the house. The only dry eyes were the DOJ lobbyists. DOJ forfeiture chief Cary Copeland stormed out during the hearing, and Rep. Conyers wove it into his speech, saying "he should apologize as he goes out the door."
F.E.A.R. introduced its 12 page position paper, "Federal Forfeiture Law Should Be Reformed To Restore Due Process and Protect the Property Rights of Innocent People," that day, and it was added to the record of the hearings. Mary Shelden's dramatic quote played all day on CNN. The next day it was all old news.
Keeping the forfeiture issue on the front burner proved to be a difficult task. Representative Henry Hyde (R. Ill.) and Representative John Conyers (D. Mich.) each introduced forfeiture reform bills in 1993. The legislative session expired without either bill passing. In fact, neither bill moved at all. They did gather a number of co-sponsors, however.
Representative Henry Hyde reintroduced his forfeiture reform bill in 1995 -- HR 1916. Hearings were held on this bill on July 22, 1996. King Cutcomp, former F.E.A.R. coordinator for Illinois, testified. The legislative session ended without the bill moving at all.
Representative Hyde introduced another forfeiture reform bill in 1997 - HR 1835. The hearings on the bill ended on an upbeat note. Then congressional staffers met with lawyers from from the Justice Department, with a few representatives on our side of the issue, and redrafted the bill, gutting every meaningful reform and adding the Justice Department's wish list. The new bill HR 1965, was totally unacceptable. FEAR and a coalition of representatives from prominent nonprofit groups, together urged Congress to reject the DOJ rewrite of Hyde's bill -- and succeeded. Hyde rejected the DOJ edition and returned to his original reform bill. Then Congress got involved in Monicagate and forfeiture reform was forgotten.
Even though we barely preserved the status quo in 1998, and our bill had still not made it out of committee, we were still optimistic. In working together to defeat HR 1965, we built a coalition of nonprofits that are committed to our cause. This coalition includes groups from all political persuasions -- from the ACLU to the NRA. And it's still growing. On December 11, 1998, the ACLU publicly announced their commitment to forfeiture reform with a large ad in the New York Times. Defeating the DOJ version of the bill showed us that we can achieve forfeiture reform if we build enough public support.Obviously FEAR's weakness is that there are not enough of us, and not enough money to do what needs to be done to fight back. Our opposition has a very powerful lobby -- the police officers and prosecutors of America, led by the Department of Justice. There is no organized opposition except our little band of members. We are David to the governmental Goliath. We need your volunteer activism, and your financial support if we're ever going to accomplish our goals of rolling back this tyrannical machine. Please join FEAR now and volunteer for the cause.
The membership in F.E.A.R. Inc. is comprised of concerned citizens, forfeiture victims, and lawyers. The concerned citizens active in our cause include doctors, writers, social scientists, professors, businessmen, and other professionals, including a former U. S. Congressman. FEAR advocates criminal due process safeguards for all forfeitures, and enhanced protections for innocent owners and third parties. We seek an end to the practices of letting the seizing agencies benefit from the proceeds of property seized, and of letting federal agencies adopt state seizures to override state law.
and volunteer efforts are greatly