Time: Tue Sep 02 02:38:58 1997
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Date: Tue, 02 Sep 1997 02:37:07 -0700
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From: Paul Andrew Mitchell [address in tool bar]
Subject: SLS: This gang IS THE POLICE! (fwd)

>Policing the 21st Century with Asset Forfeiture
>by Steve O'Keefe
>    Since 1984, a new gang has swept across the American landscape.
>They started in the big cities -- New York, Chicago and L.A. -- and
>have quickly moved into small towns throughout the U.S.  Like most
>other gangs, they're involved in the manufacture and distribution of
>illegal narcotics.  They've financed their growth through theft,
>blackmail and an organized campaign of terror, plowing profits back
>into what is now one of the largest criminal operations ever seen.
>    So why aren't the police doing anything to stop the spread of this
>brutal gang?  Because this gang IS THE POLICE.
>    Welcome to the millennium.  The United States is going through
>wrenching changes caused by enormous national deficit.  The state
>requires more and more money, yet is able to provide fewer and fewer
>services.  Law enforcement agencies, hard-pressed to prosecute the
>"war on drugs" have found a way around reliance on taxation and,
>consequently, a way around the electorate.
>    During the Reagan administration, our Drug Czars resurrected an
>old law enforcement trick called "asset forfeiture" and gave it new
>life through legislation.  Basically a suspension of due process, the
>idea behind asset forfeiture is to deny criminals access to their
>ill-gotten gains during trial and to seize property purchased with
>tainted funds.  But the power of asset forfeiture has created a beast.
>Now the group that profits most from the drug trade is law enforcement
>itself.  What started as a tool in the war on drugs has transcended
>into a whole new way of policing -- a way that threatens the liberties
>of every resident, not only of the United States, but wherever the
>long arm of U.S. law reaches.
>    Perhaps the most dramatic example of the perils of asset
>forfeiture is the case of Donald and Francis Scott.  The Scotts are a
>new breed of American criminal.  Their crime was owning a 200-acre
>rance in Malibu worth an estimated $5 million.
>    The Scott ranch abuts U.S. Parks Department property, and the feds
>had unsuccessfully attempted to purchase it several times.  Aware of
>the value of the property and that a willing buyer was available, the
>L.A. County Sheriff's Department opened an investigation against the
>    Here's how the Sheriff hatched his plan.  Aerial surveillance of
>the Scott property was ordered, during which 50 marijuana plants were
>supposedly spotted (no marijuana -- growing or otherwise -- was ever
>found on the Scott property).  A paid informant then provided
>corroborating evidence of drug dealing at the Scott ranch.  The
>informant, who had a long criminal background, took his considerable
>fee for telling the Sheriff what he wanted to hear, and promptly left
>town.  The Sheriff used the "evidence" he had assembled to obtain a
>search warrant.  In a pre-raid briefing, the Sheriff made certain to
>distribute the key piece of evidence against the Scotts:  an appraisal
>of their property.
>    This style of policing has become so routine that you probably
>wouldn't be reading about this case except for one flaw.  Donald Scott
>didn't roll over.  He resisted what he thought was a robbery and was
>shot dead in his own home.  In all the commotion, the police must have
>forgotten to plant the drugs, because none were ever found.  When the
>L.A. County Prosecuter's Office looked into the case, what they found
>was that the testimony of the informant was probably fabricated, the
>Sheriff's Department had knowingly falsified eficence, and the
>motivation for the raid was a desire to boost the department's
>depleted budget.
>    If you think what happened to the Scotts is uncommon, you haven't
>been reading between the lines in enough newspapers lately.  Asset
>forfeiture, once a tool used only against large-scale organized crime
>figures, is now an element in virtually every drug bust.  The
>incentives built into the asset forfeiture mechanism have so skewed
>the efforts of law enforcement that most of the real criminals are now
>on the police department payroll.
>    "Asset forfeiture" means asset theft.  If the police suspect that
>something you bought was paid for, in part, with proceeds from an
>illegal drug transaction, they can take it.  They don't have to PROVE
>it, they just have to SUSPECT it.  Then YOU have to prove that you
>didn't buy those items (your house, your car, your boat, your spouse's
>wedding ring) with drug money.
>    If NO PROOF is required to seize your assets, then what's required
>for "suspicion"?  Usually, the court requires that the cops must find
>enough narcotics on your property to qualify as "distribution," not
>merely "possession."  Of course, police have been found to ADD as much
>dope as necessary to obtain a charge of distribution, thus opening the
>asset forfeiture cookie jar.  They simply take drugs confiscated from
>other busts and use them to pad their case.  Sometimes, however, there
>just isn't enough dope to go around.  No problem!  The cops now
>manufacture it.
>    In Broward County, Florida, the sheriff decided that in order to
>continue its sting operations, it needed a greater supply of
>narcotics.  So the sheriff's department started making crack in the
>police lab, which was then distributed by undercover agents.  If this
>sounds like the cops have gone into the drug business, just wait until
>you see who's on their payroll.
>    Asset forfeiture money can only be used for prosecuting drug
>crimes.  And paying informants qualifies.  Many informants now make
>more money than the officers paying them.  If you had a choice between
>robbing a bank for, say, $10,000 or whispering a name into a cop's
>ear, which would you choose?  You can see why becoming a paid
>informant is the best game in town.  Since you're usually pointing the
>finger at ordinary citizens, you don't have the same risks as
>informing on a Mafia kingpin.  There seems to be little to lose and
>much to gain.
>    And where do the cops recruit informants who will tell them what
>they want to hear?  From the ranks of real criminals, of course.  If
>you get busted for armed robbery or rape or auto theft, and you have
>no assets, you're just a big fat burden to the system.  You have to be
>prosecuted and jailed at considerable taxpayer expense.  So the police
>will let you off the hook if you cooperate and tell them what they
>want to hear, which is that you saw Joe Asset dealing drugs out of his
>house.  You collect your fee, they have their probably cause, and,
>within a few hours, their treasury is getting fatter instead of being
>siphoned off.
>    So let's see if you're paying attention to the vanishing civil
>liberties here.  The law says the cops can take all your property if
>they find drugs.  The law says the cops can manufacture these drugs,
>and that they can pay informants -- even notorious criminals --
>ESPECIALLY notorious criminals -- huge sums of money to say you might
>be a drug dealer.  Then the cops can bust into your home with guns
>drawn and, if they "find" anything there, can haul you to jail and
>seize your bank accounts and all your property so you can't hire a
>lawyer.  And if a relative tries to pay for your lawyer, the cops can
>seize your relative's bank accounts and property, too, if they SUSPECT
>that you gave your relative money from your drug dealings.
>    Yes, that's the beauty of asset forfeiture:  it doesn't have to be
>limited to criminals!  According to "Newsweek" magazine, in only half
>of the forfeitures through 1990 were the forfeiting parties CHARGED
>with a crime, much less CONVICTED.  The thinnest of connections
>between the stolen -- oops, I mean FORFEITED -- property and the crime
>is enough.  A New Jersey woman lost her Oldsmobile because her son
>drove it to Sears where he was arrested for shoplifting a pair of
>pants.  An Iowa man had his $6,000 boat seized after he was captured
>with three illegally-caught fish.
>    The reason so much property is forfeited without any criminal
>charges is that asset forfeiture maneuvers around the so-called rights
>people have under the Constitution.  Most asset forfeiture cases are
>civil proceedings, not criminal.  The party on trial is the property,
>not the person.  Normal rights that apply to PEOPLE, such as
>prohibitions on illegal searches and seizures, the right to a speedy
>trial, the right to adequate counsel, due process, and -- most
>importantly -- the presumption of innocence, do not apply to PROPERTY.
>    If they seize your $3,000 car, are you going to pay an attorney
>$5,000 to get it back?  Most people roll over.  Remember, even if your
>property is found innocent, you can't sue for damages.  And you have
>to come up with money in a hurry if you want to put up a fight: you
>must put down a deposit of 10% of the property value within 10 days of
>notification to contest a forfeiture.  If you miss the 10-day
>deadline, kiss your assets goodbye.  Of course, the cops probably
>seized all your cash and readily-marketable property, leaving you with
>no money for the 10% deposit.
>    If you make the 10% deposit, 10-day deadline, you still need to
>hire a lawyer.  Remember, your property does not have the right to an
>attorney if it cannot afford one.  What happend if your lawyer wants
>$10,000 up front?  That's not an unusual amount for these cases.  Once
>again, with all your assets seized, you've got a problem.  And if you
>think your bank will lend you -- an accused drug dealer -- money
>against your house, which is now in the possession of the police,
>think again.  So it's back to begging from those relatives and friends
>who haven't had all their assets seized.
>    Now that you've hired your lawyer, get ready for a long, expensive
>trial.  After all, the cops and prosecuting attorney have MILLIONS in
>seized property with which to wage a legal battle.  If they win, they
>get to divvy up YOUR loot.
>    Let's say you persevere and win and they finally return your money
>and property.  Well, your money goes to pay back your friends for
>fronting the attorney's fees.  And your property?  Oh, that was
>destroyed in the search for drugs which were never found, then it was
>left unprotected in the elements for the several years it took to try
>the case.  Sorry about that.  Good luck trying to get your insurance
>company to pay for the damages caused by the police.
>    To understand why asset forfeiture has become so popular, you have
>to look at it from the pig's eye view.  Let's say you're running a sty
>(police department) and the citizens are complaining mightily about
>crime.  But your budget has more holes in it than the Saddam Hussein
>target out on the shooting range.  Here are the choices you have:
>    1.  Tell the citizens to pay more taxes.
>    2.  Tell the citizens to protect themselves.
>    3.  Kiss the mayor's ass until he or she cuts someone else's 
>         budget in order to give you a little more money.
>    4.  Find the most unpopular wealthy person in town, bust them for
>        drugs, and take all their assets.
>    If you chose option 4, you're well on your way to a promising
>career in law enforcement.  In fact, you're well on your way to the
>mayor's job.  Because not only do you dramatically increase your
>budget without increasing taxes, but you become a media darling as a
>crime fighter in the process.
>    The very best part about asset forfeiture law, from a pig's eye
>view, is you don't have to share the proceeds with anyone.  By law,
>the money can only be spent on further law enforcement.  The mayor
>can't take it to fix roads or build a community center; the government
>can't take it to improve schools.  It can't even be used to fund drug
>treatment centers.  Just about the only thing it can be used for is a
>surveillance helicopter for you and the department, or a fleet of
>sports cars with sirens, or "multi-purpose" vehicles for the officers
>to drive to work, or bonuses, or training seminars in Maui.
>    The asset forfeiture gravy train is so good that the pigs' own
>trade journal -- "The F.B.I. Law Enforcement Bulletin" -- is
>instructing police departments everywhere how to set upi their own
>Asset Forfeiture Units (AFUs).  According to a 1990 survey conducted
>by the Jefferson Institute, "most local jurisdictions do not use
>[asset forfeiture] units to the fullest potential.  In fact, few of
>the units successfully tap the full potential of forfeiture statutes."
>The FBI praises the Chicago Police Department's AFU as an example
>worth emulating.
>    Started as an administrative function, the Chicago AFU quickly
>grew and divided into FIVE GROUPS, including special groups for
>vehicles and real estate.  A special "investigative unit" is there to
>back up the street cops who are often "unfamiliar with the intricate
>asset forfeiture statutes, and neglect to seize other valuable
>assets."  I know I'll sleep better at night knowing these guys are
>making sure no stone goes untaken.  While all seized assets must be
>used for law enforcement, how the pie is split is different in
>different states.  In Illinois, 65% goes to the seizing agency, 10% to
>the state police and the balance -- 25% -- to the prosecuting
>attorney's office.
>    A handy article in the March, 1993, FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin
>explains what to do if you run into the annoying situation that the
>assets you want to seize aren't held in the name of the defendant.
>The determined Asset Forfeiture Officer won't let legal ownership
>stand between the department and those assets.  The well-trained Asset
>Forfeiture Officer knows to ask critical questions, such as: Whose
>name is on the insurance policy?  Who pays for repairs to the
>property?  Who "controlled" the purchase?  The diligent Forfeiture
>Officer conducts surveillance to see who usese the property.
>    When you have a large Asset Forfeiture Unit -- and, let's face it,
>every town SHOULD have one -- then you have the resources for a really
>thorough investigation.  Here are a few items the FBI thinks you
>should look at when checking out a suspect:
>        - Motor vehicle registration
>        - Real property search for deeds
>        - Search warrants should cover all documents
>        - Use informants and co-defendants
>        - Surveillance should include:
>            - Garbage pickup
>            - Mail cover
>            - Wiretap
>        - Telephone records analysis
>        - Bank deposit and safety deposit records for searches
>        - Tax returns
>    And a very thorough investigation includes not only the defendant,
>but also the defendant's "parents, relatives, wives, children,
>girlfriends, etc."  The defendant might have shared some of the
>proceeds of criminal activity with these other persons, and so all of
>THEIR assets might be available for the taking.
>    The Drug Enforcement Administration now has more personnel working
>on asset forfeiture than any other activity.  The Volusia County
>(Florida) Sheriff's Department has managed to seize over $8 million
>JUST FROM MOTORISTS on I-95.  In Washington State, legislation has
>been proposed to seize the cars and other assets of drunk drivers.  In
>New York, they want to seize cars for parking tickets.  But current
>legislation is already adequate in many places.
>    Asset Forfeiture Units are so lucrative that in some places they
>are larger than the rest of the police departments.  And they're busy,
>too.  Plice are going through criminal cases that were tried and
>disposed of years ago to see if they missed the opportunity to take
>some assets.  If assets werent seized, they just take them now through
>civil forfeiture.  You can't be tried twice for the same crime, but
>YOUR PROPERTY isn't protected from "double jeopardy."  Soon, anyone
>who committed any crime when they were a teenager -- even shoplifting
>-- can have their property seized now that they are adults and have
>assets worth taking.
>    Police don't even need to seize assets to get results.  Just the
>threat of forfeiture can have a chilling impact on police targets.  In
>Seattle, the Drug Abatement Unit (yes, they've started softening the
>names of Asset Forfeiture Units) has been able to shut down "raves"
>before they get started by threatening building owners with civil
>    "Raves" are parties that are not announced in advance and often
>take place in warehouses and vacant buildings rather than in
>traditional nightclubs.  For several years, the Seattle Police
>Department has waged a war against these parties.  At first they
>required a dizzying array of permits.  When that didn't work, they
>threatened building owners with asset forfeitures.
>    In the dozens of raves shut down by Seattle pork, NO ONE HAS EVER
>There was ONE arrest for LSD possession, which was dropped before
>going to trial.  Yet the cops have frozen rave promoters out of the
>market with threats of asset forfeiture.  The promoters themselves
>don't have any assets (they are mostly underfinanced kids), so the
>police threaten building owners.  Following the new wave of law
>enforcement, they put their muscle where the money is.
>    Opponents of asset forfeiture have hailed two Supreme Court
>decisions which supposedly restrict the use of this powerful tool.
>The media may be declaring victory in the battle against asset
>forfeiture, but the Justice Department is hardly accepting defeat.
>Rather, these cases mark the refinement and EXPANSION of the most
>powerful tool in the law enforcement arsenal.
>    In the first decision, the Supremes said that asset forfeiture was
>a form of punishment and prohibited if "excessive."  The failed to
>define "excessive," leaving it for lower courts to hash out.  In the
>second decision, announced in December, 1993, the Court said that the
>victims of forfeiture must be notified before their property is
>seized.  I'm sure that will come as a great comfort to them.
>    Lawyers at the Justice Department have read the handwriting on the
>wall:  a rising number of court cases and bills aimed at curbing
>forfeiture.  Rather than risk losing their favorite weapon, the
>Justice Department has written its own legislation to "reform" asset
>forfeiture laws.  They would curb the headline-grabbing excesses of
>law enforcement yahoos who try to seize someone's home for a parking
>ticket.  At the same time, this legislation will EXPAND the
>application of asset forfeiture beyond drug crimes to all kinds of
>offenses, especially "white collar crime."  I suppose that "white
>collar crime" means those offenses where the perpetrator has some
>assets worth taking.
>    Perhaps you find this information on asset forfeiture a little
>frightening, a little repubnant?  But really, it's very Libertarian.
>I mean, why should we have to fund law enforcement through taxes?  Why
>not make the criminals pay for the police, by seizing their ill-gotten
>gains?  Used to its fullest potential, asset forfeiture could lead to
>totally "privatized" police departments, funded completely with money
>seized from "criminals."  A great burden would be lifted from the
>taxpaying public.
>    So let's hear it for the private police departments of the 21st
>Century!  Let's give a cheer for asset forfeiture!
>If you think this is a load of crap, you're dead wrong.  The filthy
>cops who murdered Donald Scott continue to work to this day, even
>though they were found to be negligent.  In addition, Scott's home
>"mysteriously" burned down in the middle of the night and the property
>is now on the verge of being turned over to the US Park Department,
>which also had officers on the raid.  The fucking PARK Department?  In
>"USA Today" every Wednesday there is a list of hundreds and thousands
>of people who have had property similarly confiscated.  According to
>the government's own reports, fully EIGHTY per cent of those people
>are never even charged with a crime, much less convicted.  Yet their
>property is never returned.  One of these days someone will get
>desperate enough to blow up a municipal building or kill some police
>officers who were on the raid.  Oklahoma City should have been a great
>big warning to the repressive United States government.  They will
>reap a bitter harvest if they continue on this path.  I urge them to
>think hard about what they are doing, and I urge calm and for people
>to NOT use violence, which will only make things worse.  Please,
>politicians, for the love of God and our country, turn things around!
>And you Citizens, please stop voting for those politicians who take
>away our freedoms!
>-> Send "subscribe   snetnews " to majordomo@world.std.com
>->  Posted by: "J. Orlin Grabbe" <kalliste@aci.net>

Paul Andrew Mitchell                 : Counselor at Law, federal witness
B.A., Political Science, UCLA;  M.S., Public Administration, U.C. Irvine

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