Asset Forfeiture Fraud and Abuse

Arizona has one of the worst asset forfeiture laws in the country, essentially allowing law enforcement to help themselves to any money or real property that takes their fancy, and then spend it on anything they like.   For example, one AZ sheriff is spending the asset forfeiture stolen money** on buffing up his image by providing scholarships, even though such scholarships sure seem to be specifically prohibited as a use for the money.  You can think of this as pure PR - give 1% of the stolen money to some worthy cause so no one will question what you do with the other 99%, or more importantly question why they hell you had the right to take it without due process in the first place.

The Cochise County Sheriff's Office is providing nine high school students with college scholarships financed by money and assets seized from people suspected of illegal activity.

The $9,000 for scholarships is paid from the county's anti-racketeering revolving fund. State law specifies that cash in this account is to be used for things like gang and substance-abuse prevention programs and law enforcement equipment.

So, how do the scholarships fit the bill?

Though federal law appears to prohibit such a use of the money, Cochise County says the spending is permissible because it plays a role in substance-abuse prevention....

[The IJ's Paul] Avelar agreed.

The categories that specify how the money should be spent are "incredibly broad," allowing for a gamut of expenditures, he said.

"It's very loosey-goosey on what they spend it on," Avelar said. "They have the ability spend it on a lot of things that we might not think are wise expenditures of public money."

But McIntyre said that it's essential that counties retain broad spending power over this money, because "local elected officials are in a much better position to determine what priorities need to be addressed than people outside of the county."

"And additionally, the reality is that if the local voting populous doesn't agree with the use of those funds or the priorities that have been set by these decision makers, they have the ultimate remedy to vote us out," McIntyre said.

The last is a total joke.  First, most sheriff's offices refuse to provide any comprehensive reporting on their seizure and spending activities, so without transparency there can be no accountability.  And second, this is a classic redistribution scheme that always seems to get votes in a democracy.  Law enforcement steals this money from 1% of the citizens, and spends it in a way that seems to benefit most of the other 99%.  It is exactly the kind of corrupt policy that democracy consistently proves itself inadequate to prevent -- only a strict rule of law based on individual rights can stop this sort of abuse.

** While the forfeitures are legal under the law, that does not make them right.  The law is frequently used by one group to essentially steal from another.  Allowing police to take money at gunpoint from innocent (by any legal definition, since most have not been convicted of a crime) citizens is stealing whether it is enabled by the law or not.

  • mesocyclone

    Can this be fixed with local lawmaking, or have the feds expropriated it? If the former, how about a Coyote Crowd to organize and do something?

  • TeleprompterOTUS

    The US and all the states that allow takings without a conviction are banana republics

  • PA32R

    Amen. And right up there in the category of abuse by authority is piling on enhancements to charges and then using the extreme sentence to extract a plea "bargain" and steal a suspect's right to a trial by jury. Sure, that right is nominally there but a poor person who can't hire counsel being told that "if you plead guilty, you'll get three years. If you go to trial and lose you'll get 30 years" is not being bargained with. He or she is being subjected to extortion. And no, I've not been subject to this abuse.

  • jon49

    An aside. If the "local" police take any funds from an outside source (federal or state or international bodies) then they are no longer local police but an occupying force. I'm not saying anyone should use violence to stop this; just saying that we should recognize reality for what it is.

  • herdgadfly

    Gee - I thought for sure this was another rant about Sheriff Joe. Instead it is an attack on another Republican, Mark Dannels who seems like a responsible, public-oriented peace officer to me. You be the judge. Cochise County is nestled in the SE corner of the state, constantly at war with the mules from Mexico.

  • vikingvista

    One cannot confuse legal and right, and still remain right.

  • Dave B

    >> seized from people suspected of illegal activity

    That's the crux of asset forfeiture. What those people did may or may not be illegal or even adjudicated but the money is taken and used.

    I especially like how they institute such a scholarship program for 9k/a. So they need to seize at least 9k of suspicious money every year to fund this or they have to take the money from elsewhere to keep this feelgood campaign.
    "Sorry people, we have to keep seizing stuff otherwise we have to raise the money locally to keep up these scholarships. And i am sure you don't want higher taxes. So don't change the law and our policies."

  • slocum

    It can certainly be fixed with state-level lawmaking:

  • joe

    one of the few Rheinqust decisions i dislike

  • HenryBowman419

    Most states (New Mexico recently excepted) have various civil asset forfeiture laws in place. But, attorneys familiar with the issue tell me that it is far easier to use Federal civil asset laws than the laws of most states. We should concentrate on ridding the country of the Federal laws.

  • mx

    And your point is? What part of the above program seems right to you? How does proximity to Mexico matter?

  • Not Sure

    "You be the judge."

    Looked at the link. Didn't see anything that would indicate that allowing Mark Daniels (or the people he supervises) confiscate the property of people who haven't been convicted of any crime would be a good idea.

  • JS

    After having my case dropped, released from custody, I'm now in the process of "attempting " to collect on my MISSING property that the arresting officers took the night I was arrested ( Hugo boss watch, Perry Ellis sunglasses purchased that day, they did have the Boss box the watch came in that was empty), my cracked and damaged iPhone 6 plus, cracked iPad, and my windows tablet that wont charge after someone had factory reset the thing. Ī also would've thought id be able to claim my 1,183$ that stemmed from my computer repair business proceeds. after researching the AZ civil forfeiture statues in depth , I'm realizing that I was not only grossly misinformed by my appointed public defender in the civil matter, but the laws themselves are absolutely egregious!!! my lawyer had no idea how to handle the civil matter, but also seemed to concede it was not worth any effort, therefore a claim was never submitted within 30 days smashing the hopes of seeing that $$ again.,and I now understand I've been robbed and extorted by officers who routinely abuse power (no I mean it , refer to link below , the arresting officer on me was this very officer) so although il continue to fight for my money and retribution of damages, I've been deemed not guilty while my money has been.