Drug War

Asset Forfeiture: "A Process of Government Enrichment That Often Is Indistinguishable from Robbery"


The case of United States of America v. 434 Main Street Street, Tewksbury, Massachusetts is currently awaiting trial in the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts. At issue is an attempt by the federal government, acting in cooperation with local law enforcement, to use federal asset forfeiture law to seize a family business, the Motel Caswell, because a tiny fraction of the motel's guests have been arrested for drug crimes over the past two decades. In his latest Washington Post column, George Will comes out swinging against this case of government abuse:

The Caswells have not been charged with, let alone convicted of, a crime. They are being persecuted by two governments eager to profit from what is antiseptically called the "equitable sharing" of the fruits of civil forfeiture, a process of government enrichment that often is indistinguishable from robbery….

Since 1994, about 30 motel customers have been arrested on drug-dealing charges. Even if those police figures are accurate — the police have a substantial monetary incentive to exaggerate — these 30 episodes involved less than 5/100ths of 1 percent of the 125,000 rooms Caswell has rented over those more than 6,700 days. Yet this is the government's excuse for impoverishing the Caswells by seizing this property, which is their only significant source of income and all of their retirement security.

The government says the rooms were used to "facilitate" a crime. It does not say the Caswells knew or even that they were supposed to know what was going on in all their rooms all the time. Civil forfeiture law treats citizens worse than criminals, requiring them to prove their innocence — to prove they did everything possible to prevent those rare crimes from occurring in a few of those rooms. What counts as possible remains vague. The Caswells voluntarily installed security cameras, they photocopy customers' identifications and record their license plates, and they turn the information over to the police, who have never asked the Caswells to do more.

Read the rest of Will's column here. For more on asset-forfeiture abuse, see Radley Balko's 2010 Reason feature "The Forfeiture Racket."

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  1. United States of America v. 434 Main Street Street, Tewksbury, Massachusetts

    Addresses aren’t people. They have no constitutional rights.

    1. Tewksbury, LMAO.

  2. to use federal asset forfeiture law to seize a family business, the Motel Caswell, because a tiny fraction of the motel’s guests have been arrested for drug crimes over the past two decades

    Well, what is wrong with those hotel owners? Don’t they know that it is their duty as a business owner to monitor every second of their guests behavior? They should have just invited TSA to set up shop at their front door and turned loose drug sniffing dogs in the building, at their own expense of course.

    Slackers, they are not good upstanding citizens of the USSA!

  3. So what you’re saying is, if I read through the links in the comments section of Morning Links, I will read 95% of the stories Reason will eventually get to in the day.

    1. PM links as well. They racap old the days stories and often talk about what they will writing about tomorrow.

      I find them both to be nice summaries.

      Still AM links need to die as they have an Obvious east Coast bias.

  4. The truly disgusting aspect of this case is that if the forfeiture is allowed, get ready to see an orgy of asset forfeitures across the country, since it will now essentially be saying that if anything criminal occurs on any property, it can be seized whether the owners even knew about it.

    Kids did some drugs on the back of your acres of property and got caught by the cops? Seized. Drug deal goes down in the apartment building you own? Seized.

    1. Exactly

    2. We have a revenue problem, not a spending problem. This can help fix that.

      1. Dude, you know they’re actually thinking that. That’s why it’s so disgusting.

    3. What’s the chance this would have happened if the motel had a mortgage to a bank receiving TARP money? Come to think of it, this is a nice way to cover up the TARP crap. Just make everybody without a mortgage get one, else risk asset forfeiture.

      Nice to see that George Will is finally coming around. I guess if Bob Barr can do it, then anyone can.

  5. You know, I would be willing to wager everything I have, that if this is a tactic that the government can actually use and get away with, then they have the potential to seize every hotel chain in the world.

    How many hotels that have been in business for a number of years, could claim that there has never been drugs used in one of their rooms? WTF are they supposed to do? Frisk everyone at the doors, and station a jackbooted thug in each room to keep a constant vigil? Maybe replce jackbooted thug with an array of security cameras? We are so way past a fucking fascist police state in this country.

    1. I remember reading, back during the 80s, an article where somebody (I think in the Coast Guard) was quoted as pointing out that, under the law, a single joint found in one of the cabins of the Queen Elizabeth 2 would be sufficient for the feds to seize the ship.

      1. By the same reasoning, every business in the U.S. could be seized. If an employee, contractor, or visitor, smoked a joint in the IBM parking garage, hired a prostitute on the grounds of the ATT headquarters, or snorted coke at his desk at Apple – the Feds could take the building and everything in it. Maybe the whole company.

    2. They can’t seize the big chains because they are smart enough to stay leveraged. So much for the small business fetish. It’s even on the presidents to do list

  6. In a Team Blue state, I’m going to have to say it doesn’t look good for the Caswells….

    1. Yes, let’s not forget the real issue here. How can this incident be spun for partisan advantage in the 2012 presidential election?

      1. If only Russ the motel owner was as catchy as Joe the plumber.

    2. because you don’t think a Team Red state would do the same thing? Really?

      1. I am sure that they would, and will.

  7. Welcome to the new Regime! Pretty scary stuff man.


  8. For a mere $100,000 I’m willing to forget the name of every Hotel I’ve ever…well, you get the picture.

  9. Not only do I want to capitalize on Hotels, I seem to find a need to capitalize them as well.

  10. I am going on a tangent here, but…

    I just got back from BWI airport and there was some guys who had a kiosk set up there with Impeach Obama signs. Of course that caught my attention because, well, this is communist Maryland ya know.

    So I couldn’t resist going over to check them out. When my wife saw where this was going, she was like, omg, not political stuff!, lol.

  11. continued…

    So I went over and said, ‘why not just vote the guy out, there is no way the first black POTUS will ever be impeached no matter what he does, you do realize that, right?’. Guy ignores me and starts in about how Obama is going to get us into a war with Russia and China, and then about how Obama is the same guy as Bush. So I said ‘yeah, and the same guy as Romney, so how about voting for Libertarians, because Rs and Ds are both going to continue the wars’. So he completely ignores me again, and keeps on going about how we are heading for thermonuclear war. Then I told him I have to go because my wife has to board her flight. So then he asks me for money, and I said ‘so you don’t want to engage in a meaningful debate with me about how we change things, but you want me to give you money? Nope.’

    These guys were from something called Larouche Pac. I don’t know who they are, haven’t had time to research them. I have to say one thing though, they are either a couiple of really brave dudes to set this thing up where they did, or they are just crazy. I can’t even imagine how many times they were called racist today. I wanted to ask the guy that but I found him too annoying and so I didn’t care.

    1. Dude,

      Lyndon Larouche is one of the few guys to be in the L. Ron Hubbard level of cult longevity.

      1. Word. I used to see pamphlets back in the early 90s late 80s on that guy. He’s been gone for a while, but a Larouche PAC was outside a post office recently. I was all, “Rly? Larouch is still out there?”

        1. What is weird is they exist just to raise money so they can exist.

          I would think this would moderate their message…

          Wait a second…

          Holy shit!!! Anyone want to form a SuperPac espousing moderate centrist bullshit and pay ourselves 100s of thousands each year?!?!

          1. JC, I think you are on to something here… I’ve got it! We have conclusive evidence that an alien invasion is imminent… insert conspiracy theory shit here… print up flyers, set up kiosk in high traffic area… give us money.

    2. Don’t waste your Jedi mind tricks on them. They have the world all figured out.

      LaRouchies are fun to fuck with, because 1) they’re (harmless) nutbags and 2) they have no sense of humor of any kind. They’ll buy just about anything that you say, no matter how preposterous.

    3. Thanks for the info. Now I am sure that I have heard that name before, Lyndon LaRouche, but know nothing about the guy. I definitely left off chatting with them, which was a one way street, with a feeling that they were somewhere out there in conspiracy theory land.

      1. A lot of people (uninformed ones) will lump Ron Paul in with LaRouche. They both want lower taxes kind of thing.

        1. I didn’t get the chance to mention Paul. When I mentioned that I will be voting for Gary Johnson, the guy either drew a blank or was just too high on some conspiracy kool-aid to respond, which seemed more likely since he didn’t respond to anything at all, but just continued to drone on in the same manner.

        2. Yeah, funny thng is, I’m pretty sure Larouche calls himself a Democrat. We should be asking candidate Obama why he doesn’t do more to disavow these positions within his own party, and if his failure to kick them out means Democrats secretly endorse their positions.

  12. SS agents hired prostitutes in Columbia, thus we should seize the White House!

    1. Nope, we should just burn the villages of innocent Colubmian peasants because they might be growing some plant that we don’t like… oh wait, we are already doing that…

      1. Columbian. Edit feature dear Reason site developers, edit feature, please…

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