Inside Philadelphia's Asset Forfeiture Racket


The Philadelphia City Paper dug into the city's use of civil forfeiture, a practice that allows the government to seize property without proving it is connected to a crime, and estimates that hundreds of people lose their property every year without being convicted of a crime. From the story:

When Philadelphia Police officers stopped Dwayne Marks as he was driving north on Broad Street near Temple University last year, Marks says he wasn't particularly worried. Marks, who is a black man in his late 30s from East Mount Airy, has faced drug charges in the past—but he's straightened up, he says. When the police asked whether he had a criminal background, "I told them, 'Yeah,'" he recalls. "I told them the truth." 

As he saw it, he had done nothing wrong and had nothing to hide. And so, when police asked to search his truck, Marks said they could go ahead. 

He describes the encounter, initially that is, as calm. It was when police found more than $6,000 in cash in his car—money he says was related to a number of rental properties he owns, he says—that things changed.

"They … took me down to the district, handcuffed me, took my money … [searched] my whole truck again. Then they got a dog to sniff my whole truck out—and still didn't find nothing." There were no drugs on Marks or on his vehicle; no charges were filed. But the interaction wasn't over, Marks says: "They got mad. … They said, 'We're going to make you go to court for your money, then.'"

Marks would soon find himself sucked into a strange, upside-down corner of the legal system, where the burden of proof would be reversed to rest on the accused, where those opposing him would seem to call the shots—and where the minor matter of his undisputed innocence of any charge would not seem to be a factor.

Millions of dollars taken via forefeiture disappear into city coffers annually, and the money is spent in secret. From City Paper:

In recent years, the Philadelphia DA's forfeiture program has brought in an average $6.2 million annually; since 1987, the earliest year for which City Paper could find data, the program has raised more than $90 million. Last year, the DA reported a fund balance of $10.5 million, as well as $5.5 million in new revenue and $5.9 million in expenses—all of this on top of the budget allocated to the DA by the city.

How is this multimillion-dollar pot spent? The DA won't say. The office cited confidentiality issues in declining repeated requests to provide details of how this fund is used, let alone a full breakdown of its expenditures. If there is a larger stream of unreported public expenditures in the city, we've never heard of it.

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  1. “Then they got a dog to sniff my whole truck out?and still didn’t find nothing.”

    So what did they find?

    Also this is what people want, so screw ’em.

    1. Didn’t you guard stuff in Whiterun? And didn’t you take an arrow in the knee?

      1. Both. But I relocated for, uh, health reasons.

        1. Ah, I thought it was a strange coincidence. Tell us the truth–you’re sleeping with Jarl Elisif, right?

          1. You think I’d still be on guard duty if I was sleeping with the Jarl!

            No, think much lower on the social scale.

  2. It’s always very important to remember that interacting with police is like interacting with a chimpanzee. You can get along famously with them, they’ll even give you hugs and stuff, but some day, with little or no warning, they’ll try to bite your face off and gouge out your eyes.

    Which is why you should avoid them at all costs.

    1. Get off me you damned, dirty ape!

  3. Surprised am I at this.

    My shocked face this is.


  4. As he saw it, he had done nothing wrong and had nothing to hide…[he was] sucked into a strange, upside-down corner of the legal system, where the burden of proof would be reversed to rest on the accused…

    See – if you’ve done nothing wrong…no, wait…ummmm….

    Never mind.

    1. I seriously don’t know what people are thinking to ever, ever, ever allow a search of their home, person, or vehicle, even if they know they are clean. Does anyone do public awareness stuff about this?

      1. People are psychologically predisposed to acquiesce to a request by someone in a uniform. It’s hardwired. Cops know this and use it to take advantage of people, and they get really mad when someone refuses.

      2. It is actually unnatural to refuse. You have to train yourself not to automatically say “Yes” to someone in a uniform.

        I remember when I got busted for OUI on a bicycle (after getting hit by a car that ran a red light, but i digress). The cop asked me “You do know that it is illegal to ride a bike after you’ve been drinking, don’t you?” with all the proper inflection in his voice to make it certain that the “correct” answer to the question was an affirmative. As I thought to myself “no, actually” my mouth surprised me by saying “yes”. It was an involuntary response. I suspect the same thing happens to a lot of people when the cop asks them to consent to a search.

        1. Yep – this. Average person is pretty hardwired to think, “I got nothing, I’ve done nothing wrong…it’s a Peace Occifer – SURE, go ahead and look!”

          I’ve had to TRAIN myself to say, “No, fuck you, cut spending.” Oh, and “You got a warrant? Then how about ‘NO’?”

          1. The average person is hardwired to react, not think. You have to train yourself to think.

            1. GO AHEAD!!!

              *shit ,shit, shit – why did I say that?*

              1. That’s exactly what happens.

        2. For sure. I did it myself once, and I almost threw up afterward. I was sick over it for days. (I was on my way out of my apartment building, and cops had just arrived, and asked if I would let them inside the entryway. Ugh, I hate to even think about it.)

          All the more reason for public education. I’m not aware of any of “our” usual nonprofits focusing on this, but I could be wrong. LEAP perhaps?

      3. It’s totally fucked and makes no sense. If you don’t have anything to hide, then you know a search would be a waste of time for you and the cop (unless you are carrying a lot of cash, I guess). If you do, then you have a good incentive not to allow a search. So why would anyone ever consent to a search? Intimidation and lies by the cops seems like the only explanation.

      4. The thing about that though is that a refusal of a search gives them “probable cause” and out come the dogs. Not that you arent right, but its pretty much impossible to win. The only thing you can do is avoid interactions with these animals if at all possible.

  5. As he saw it, he had done nothing wrong and had nothing to hide. And so, when police asked to search his truck, Marks said they could go ahead.

    That was his first mistake.

    1. That was his second mistake. His first mistake was carrying a large amount of cash.

      1. Third. Being black and not in prison was his first.

        1. DWB, baby – Occifer Training 101

  6. Correction. It was his third mistake. First was carrying a lot of cash, second was giving the pigs an excuse to shake him down, third was consenting to a search. Not that it would have mattered anyway. Once they decide they’re going to search a vehicle, the vehicle will be searched.

  7. Paging Docteur Guillotine!

    Paging Docteur Guillotine!

  8. His first mistake was carrying a large amount of cash.

    His first mistake was turning his back on the benevolence and generosity of the welfare state and striking out on his own.

  9. No, no, you people all have it wrong. The police are our friends. And if he hadn’t done anything wrong, then why did they handcuff him and take his money? See, he must have done something wrong!

  10. He might have spent some of that cash from his tenants on things without routing it through the banking system to ensure all taxes were paid on it first, so this is completely justified.

    /yes, I’m being sarcastic

    1. Does sarcastic know you’re pretending to be him?

      1. I’m sarcasmic, dude! As in the sarcastic descendent of Irish immigrants!
        I occasionally have a sargasm, but that’s a totally different issue.

        1. YEah – I asked about sarcastic.

          You’re so vain! You prolly think this post is about you…

  11. estimates that hundreds of people lose their property every year without being convicted of a crime

    Isn’t this just another example of the liberal paradise that is unqualified, unfettered Eminent Domain?

    1. Hey give it enough time to work. Our Glorious Leader needed at least another four years. Philly has only been under Democratic rule (and I do mean rule) for sixty years. Whaddaya expect, instant liberal paradise?

    2. No, this is different. They don’t even have to pretend to have a reason to sieze the cash.

  12. So, how long until cops decide to try this against an armored car?

    1. Naw, its only us peons who are suspicious when we have a lot of cash. The storm troopers know full and well that the banks get their money completely legitimately (snicker). Plus, the goons know who they really work for.

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