Asset Forfeiture

Prairie State Plunder

What Illinois got when law enforcement grabbed $72 million in property using asset forfeiture

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Cars, guns, cash, PlayStations, shampoo, a forklift, even a statue of a Mexican folk saint: Illinois police raked in an estimated $72 million worth of seized property over the past two years, according to public records obtained by the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

Illinois has one of the more aggressive asset forfeiture programs in the country. Ben Ruddell, criminal justice policy attorney for the ACLU of Illinois, pointed out in April that the "state's laws in this area currently are grossly unfair. As preposterous as it seems, you can lose your property—including your car, cash, or even your home—without ever being arrested or charged with a crime."

The ACLU records cover only two years, but they provide a wide-angle snapshot of what kind of property Illinois police seized, how much it was worth, and where the proceeds flowed. They are also rare among records on asset forfeiture because they show the disposition of seized property.

Of the $72 million seized in those two years, the state only officially arranged for the full forfeiture of $16 million. About $5 million was not ultimately kept.

Of that $5 million, some property was junked and some was used to cover court costs and fines, but $2.1 million was returned because the courts either found the state failed to show probable cause at preliminary hearings or ruled against the state after trial. Prosecutors also dropped cases involving nearly $900,000 worth of property, the records show. In other words, police seized $3 million in private property on grounds that prosecutors or courts found too flimsy to uphold.

Only about $2,500 worth of forfeitures were reversed on appeal by circuit courts in the state, showing the scarcity of successful challenges to the asset forfeiture process.

"Either police are getting all these cases right, or there's serious deficiencies in challenging them," says Bryant Jackson-Green, an analyst at the Illinois Policy Institute, a right-leaning think tank that supports reforming the state's asset forfeiture laws.

That still leaves about $50 million worth of seized property sitting in state custody during those two years. The forfeiture process is notoriously slow. As the Illinois Policy Institute notes, state law allows for up to 187 days before a forfeiture hearing is required to take place.

Asset forfeiture laws were created in the '80s to disrupt drug traffickers and organized crime by seizing the fruits of their ill-gotten gains: cash, guns, and cars. And the tools of the criminal trade are well-represented in the list of Illinois seizures, which includes digital scales, money counters, safes, and guns (including AR-style rifles and shotguns). Among the vehicles law enforcement has taken are six Cadillac Escalades, six Mercedes-Benz sedans, and a 2013 Triumph Bonneville Steve McQueen Edition motorcycle. Electronics too are a popular target: Flatscreen TVs, especially of the 50-inch-and-above variety, were commonly seized by Illinois police, along with smartphones, iPads, digital cameras, laptops, video game systems, and Beats by Dre headphones.

But tucked among the cars and electronics are some head-scratchers: there's "179 bottles of miscellaneous soap and shampoo," a cordless drill and stapler, and a statue of Jesus Malverde, a Robin Hood-esque Mexican folk saint popular among drug runners.

One of civil liberties advocates' biggest criticisms of asset forfeiture is that the proceeds are funneled directly back to police departments and district attorneys, creating a perverse incentive for law enforcement to go fishing for seizures.

The documents provided by the Illinois State Police, which administers the state's asset forfeiture program, reveal that—of the 426 local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies that received payouts for the $16 million in forfeited property in those two years—the Chicago Police Department brought in the biggest haul: just a couple thousand dollars shy of $3 million. The Illinois State Police themselves took in the second highest amount at $2.3 million, followed by the Cook County State's Attorney, which kept $1.8 million. The average payout was $38,200.

For all that the records reveal, they also show just how much we don't know without stricter public reporting requirements.

Besides noting that $13 million in seizures were connected to money laundering, the documents do not distinguish between civil and criminal asset forfeiture or disclose for what offense the property was taken. Illinois law grants police the power to seize vehicles under a wide variety of offenses, ranging from DUIs to gambling to terrorism to violations of the Environmental Protection Act.

"The reporting requirements are one of the biggest problems of the current regime," Jackson-Green says. "To find out how much is being forfeited you have to submit a [Freedom of Information Act] request. One thing we'd like to see is this info being put in an annual report or published online."

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    1. Careful, the cops might have their eye on that condo for forfeiture.

  2. You would think with all this stolen stuff, the state could could pay some of their fucking bills.

    1. Perhaps the very same thieving impulses behind the asset forfeiture policy drive the “political payoffs through unsustainable spending” policy.

      1. Yeah, I would assume there’s lots of overlap between the ‘drive it like you stole it’ and the ‘drive it till the wheels fall off’ camps.

        1. “Drive it til the wheels fall off” usually means thrift.

          You have no intention to (or simply cannot afford to) shell out a single cent for another vehicle unless and until your current vehicle caputs & dies completely.

          Not much in common with “drive it like you stole it” in normal circumstances.

  3. I cant, for the life of me, figure out why anyone would want to live in Illinois.

    1. If I could find work elsewhere (I exclude shitholes like Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, and Georgia), I’d be out of here in a microsecond.

      1. Why don’t you exclude the shithole called Illinois?

      2. Friend, start looking for work in VA, TX, CO, NM, CT, hell even NE!

        1. No! Stay the fuck out of Colorado, they’ve got enough assholes from California polluting the gene pool already. No need to add Illinois to the list of infiltrators.

      3. I don’t think it really matters anymore.
        They are working very, very hard to ruin everywhere, so that it’s just as bad as everywhere else just as fast as they possibly can. Lived in Cali twice, lived in Florida twice, lived in Illinois in between, and have visited most of the rest. In-laws just returned from Texas where they thought to live permanently, other family won’t leave Cali or as near to it til they die in “The Big One” or somehow else before that, regardless of how bad it gets, friends in the Midwest can’t believe what’s going on there. Nowhere is really “safe” anymore.

    2. Work, family in the area, the usual anchors. I thought I would stay here until I was wheeled up the ramp to the old soldier’s home – but the day I retire, I am heading to AZ or TX.

    3. Yeah, I work in Illinois, live in Iowa. All the new people coming to the area are like 9:1 moving to the iowa side.

    4. Born and raised in IL, moved out, and work/family brought me back. As soon as my kids are out of HS, I’ll be out of IL.

    5. I cant, for the life of me, figure out why anyone would want to live in Illinois.

      We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in Illinois, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our prairie, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never… fuck it, this isn’t *the* hill to die on. Let’s all just armchair it from the parts of Texas that haven’t turned into California or maybe collect a Federal paycheck in Atlanta or New Orleans and phone it in from there.

    6. “I cant, for the life of me, figure out why anyone would want to live in Illinois.”

      I’m not sure anyone wants to live in IL, it’s more circumstances limiting their options. In my case it’s my son and my grand kids. Also the fact that, outside a few neighborhoods in Chicago, property values are in the crapper. I’d be lucky to sell my house for what I paid for it 23 years ago assuming I could sell it at all. I believe moving to IL was the biggest mistake I ever made. I expect all of downstate IL will look a lot like Detroit in another 20 years.

      1. Downstate as in the south-side or Joliet? Most of downstate Illinois, that I know, is doing great, even with sending all of their money to Chicago! I would suspect Chicago, and not downstate, looking like Detroit in a short period of time!

  4. When I was an ASA in a suburban county back at the end of the 1990s, one place in particular was REALLY aggressive about seizing everything they could get their hands on…I won’t name it, but think Wayne’s World.

  5. But isn’t Illinois a state run by [gulp] Democrats? I’m told that Democrats are the only honest and compassionate politicians that help regular folks.

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  8. Speaking of incentives for the police to commit crimes, how many other places of employment offer a paid vacation for murdering someone? And an excellent chance of no criminal prosecution for homicide?

  9. I don’t know, but I suspect it was a cut of the “stolen goods”. What is should have gotten was a boot in the tail of such magnititude that it’s collective ear would still be ringing 100 years from now.

  10. surely this nonsense has gotten challenged on constitutional grounds before, and i just have to keep shaking my head and asking no one in particular, how much did someone not pay attention in law school to actually think any of this makes sense?

  11. And the cops want us to feel sorry for them?
    I don’t think so.

  12. John Adams said in “A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America.”

    “”…the moment that idea is admitted
    into society that property is not as sacred
    as the Laws of God, and that there is not
    a force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence.
    Property must be sacred or liberty cannot exist.””

    That explains a lot, doesn’t it?

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  14. One more good reason to avoid that rotten state. I won’t even book a flight that connects through Chicago.

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