Politics

Taxpayer Forfeiture

Asset seizure costs

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After raiding two Boise, Idaho, tobacco shops last May, the local police and the Drug Enforcement Administration seized more than $2 million in assets from William Oldenburg, the store's 65-year-old owner.

Oldenburg, a retired Air Force colonel with no criminal record, is accused of selling Spice, a synthetic marijuana product that he says police told him was legal, and drug paraphernalia, in the form of pipes that police surmised were intended for illicit use based partly on the Bob Marley posters in his stores. He is also charged with "structuring" financial transactions—making bank deposits in increments of less than $10,000, the threshold that triggers mandatory reporting to the federal government. According to a federal indictment, Oldenburg faces a possible 19 years in prison and a fine of more than $1 million as well as forfeiture of his assets, which his lawyer says include a dozen rental properties Oldenburg bought during his 30 years of military service. 

The seizure is not just costing Oldenburg money. It is also costing taxpayers. Because he no longer has access to his assets, he can't afford to pay for his own lawyer. "The government has taken somebody who was pretty well off and could have afforded an attorney and has instead required the taxpayers to pay for his attorney," Dennis Charney, Oldenburg's court-appointed counsel, told the Idaho Statesman in November. "It's ridiculous."   

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