Asset forfeiture follies

Motel Hell

Asset forfeiture follies

Motel Hell

Damon Root

Police in Tewksbury, Massachusetts, say the Motel Caswell, a family business valued at $1 million, is subject to civil forfeiture because a tiny fraction of its guests have been arrested for drug crimes during the last two decades. Russell and Pat Caswell, who have owned and operated the motel for nearly 30 years, say they have always worked closely with police and reported illegal activity whenever it came to their attention. 

That should have been enough to prevent the forfeiture from proceeding under state law, which requires the government to show that the owner “knew or should have known” his property was “used in and for the business of unlawfully manufacturing, dispensing, or distributing controlled substances.” But the Tewksbury police skirted that requirement by partnering with the Justice Department and pursuing forfeiture under federal law. And that wasn’t the only advantage of going federal: State law allows police to keep 50 percent of the proceeds, while federal law gives them 80 percent.

“No one in the United States should lose his or her property without being convicted of a crime, let alone never even being charged with a crime,” argues Institute for Justice attorney Scott Bullock, who is representing the Caswells. “This case shows that fair and impartial law enforcement cannot exist as long as we allow policing for profit.”

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