Asset Forfeiture

FBI Insists That When They Steal People's Stuff, They're Doing It for You

They take $5 billion and give back $100 million to crime victims. These numbers don't add up.

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Forfeiture
FBI

The FBI does want you to understand that while, yes, they do seize and keep billions of dollars in assets from citizens through a system that doesn't require them to prove a crime, they're doing it for the financial benefit of communities.

Nowhere in this new FBI "news story" titled "Forfeiture as an Effective Law Enforcement Tool" will you find the words "Fourth Amendment, "Due Process," or "innocence." Instead it uses a single example of using forfeiture to snag drug dens in Rutland, Vermont, and returning them to the community. By "community" they mean the organization with a $1.25 million redevelopment grant and not the family that was forced out of one of the buildings and ended up living in a trailer. That's right—the FBI is using a case where families got bounced out of their homes as an example of the benefits of forfeiture. The FBI wants to convince us that this is what civil asset forfeiture looks like—that it is all for our benefit.

Civil asset forfeiture is the mechanism by which law enforcement agencies—local and national—use administrative and court systems to take and keep people's money in assets without actually having to prove they committed a crime. This FBI piece openly acknowledges in this little story that civil forfeiture targets property, not people, and is "not dependent on a criminal prosecution." They justify this violation of due process because it's for our benefit. They explain that it's to better facilitate giving back to crime victims:

[I]f the case involves depreciating assets (like cars), we can civilly forfeit those assets faster than in the criminal proceeding, then liquidate the assets and get them back to the victim at a better return than if we had held the assets until the criminal case was completed. We also do parallel cases to ensure we can forfeit the assets civilly in case the defendant flees or dies before the forfeiture order is handed down.

The short piece ends by telling us that FBI forfeiture resulted in $100 million in restitution to crime victims over the past two years and $4 billion in restitution since 2000. But those numbers are not provided in any sort of context that tells us how much the federal government seizes property in total, and deliberately so. This entire little piece of propaganda is all about insisting that the citizens are the beneficiaries of this venture.

Here's some context: In just 2014 the federal government deposited $5 billion in seized assets. That was just one year. So this $100 million in restitution over two years is a drop in the bucket compared to what they've taken. Most of the money is kept for themselves or shared with local law enforcement agencies.

The reality of where the money goes is why organizations like the Institution for Justice refer to forfeiture as "policing for profit" and it's why a vast majority of Americans oppose civil asset forfeiture when they understand how it works.

No doubt the increasing public opposition to this practice explains why the FBI felt the need to put out this little justification for the practice focusing on how citizens benefit. The problem though is that for every example of victims of a crime being reimbursed through forfeiture, we have dozens upon dozens of cases where the feds use this complicated administrative process to try to seize property from innocent owners simply because a crime happened on the premises.

Much more from Reason on asset forfeiture on the federal and state level here. Expect to see more pushes for at least state-level reforms in 2017.

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  1. I don’t want to say anything bad here about the Feds for fear of a capricious retaliation that would be horrific to fight.
    I enjoyed the article (and others on this subject) though. I hope that isn’t enough to get me targeted.

    1. It puts the lotion on its skin or else it gets the hose again.

  2. J.Edgar Hoover approves this message.

  3. Why liquidate seized assets to reimburse the victim, rather than just returning them to the victim?

    1. Cops can’t keep the majority of a house or a car, but they can keep the vast majority of the proceeds from selling a house or a car.

      1. So somebody steals your car, transports it across state lines, the feds recover it…you don’t get it back? Instead they sell it & give you some of the proceeds? Is that really what the FBI’s referring to?

    2. The ‘Don’ must wet his beak. It’s the price we pay for ‘protection’.

      1. $4.9 billion out of $5 billion? At that race, I think even most gangsters would start to have moral qualms.

        1. That should read “At that rate“. Damned squirrels.

          1. Nice cover, racist.

            1. Better than “at that rape”, right?

              1. I don’t know….

    3. Victims? There are no victims!

      If the FBI took your shit, you deserved it. And if you didn’t get arrested, you should just consider yourself lucky!

  4. Most crimes are crimes against the state!

    The state is the victim!

    So when the cops keep the money, they can honestly say it’s going to the victim!

  5. Most of the money is kept for themselves or shared with local law enforcement agencies.

    And that allows national and local law enforcement to better protect all you ingrates. And they didn’t even raise your taxes.

  6. “Forfeiture as an Effective Law Enforcement Tool”

    If you haven’t proven a law has been broken, is it really a law enforcement tool?

    1. Ha- you and your logic. Expect a visit soon from a local overseer.

    2. That’s because the purpose of what is called law enforcement is not to enforce the law. The purpose is power, control, and of course revenue. Law enforcement officers do not enforce the law. They enforce their will. Do what they say or they will be justified in killing you. Doesn’t matter if any laws are being broken. And since the public exists to serve them and do what they say, of course they’re going to rob whomever they can. Who is going to stop them?

      1. Harry Callahan?

      2. Flash Gordon?
        Ghostbusters?
        Roto Rooter?

    3. Everything they do is law enforcement, even if there is no law being enforced. Just ask the Supreme Court!

      1. +1 reasonable mistake

      2. C’mon man, don’t tell me it’s not worth trying for. You can’t tell me it’s not worth dying for. You know it’s true – everything they do, they do it for you.

  7. we have dozens upon dozens of cases where the feds use this complicated administrative process to try to seize property from innocent owners

    There are no innocent owners, only owners who haven’t yet been charged with something.

    1. Unindicted co-conspirators.

  8. The thing that always bothers me is why should the government be able to put stuff like this out? They’re basically advocating for policy. Why should the taxpayers, some of whom disagree with policy wishes being argued for have to pay for speech they oppose?

    1. Because Fuck You, That’s Why.

  9. “…and it’s why a vast majority of Americans oppose civil asset forfeiture when they understand how it works.”

    Too bad only .01% of the population. Try telling someone who you don’t usually talk politics with what civil asset forfeiture IS and how it works and how the cops/ feds/ whoever don’t need to secure a conviction to keep ALL YOUR SHIT. They won’t believe you….

    Best kept secret ever. The greatest trick the devil ever pulled and all that….

    1. They only do it to drug dealers and other bad people so it’s OK.

    2. Absolutely correct, they won’t believe you. When I’ve explained it, a common reply is, “They can’t do that”.

      1. People in this country aren’t going to rise up against unjust government THAT THEY AREN’T EVEN AWARE OF….. this is why we libertarians will lose on this issue.

        That, and police are heroes. Just ask Mark Wahlberg – he’s got a LOT more influence on American people’s attitude than WE ever will!!!

  10. ? Look into my eyes,
    You will see
    What your assets mean to me.
    Search for your cash,
    Search for your home
    When you can’t find them there, you’ll search no more
    Don’t tell me it’s not worth tryin’ for
    You can’t tell me that it’s worth dyin’ for
    You know it’s true
    Everything we do,
    We do it for you?

  11. The FBI also isn’t necessarily coming clean on whether they are giving the property to people working indirectly for the FBI in some capacity. What percentage of domestic US residences are currently being used by people working for the FBI or CIA in some capacity? Does anyone have a clue? No. The answer is “No”. None of us has a clue. We are not allowed to know.

    Who are the children who work undercover for the FBI? Who attend schools under false names? Are they in the FBI their entire life? Does anyone know? No. No one knows. It’s a secret.

    1. Who are the children who work undercover for the FBI? Who attend schools under false names? Are they in the FBI their entire life? Does anyone know? No. No one knows. It’s a secret.

      I need context on this one, never heard of such a thing.

  12. https://www.justice.gov/usao-vt/pr
    /innovative-public-private-agreement-will-convert-
    drug-properties-renovated-housing-stock
    [concatenate URL]
    reads just like a case of eminent domain for redevelopment: “a 2014 housing study found that only about 32% of the residences were owner-occupied. The settlement ensures that these three residential properties will be transformed from ownership by an absentee landlord into owner-occupied, single family residence, duplexes, or condominium residential units” Owner-occupied housing does seem to be quite a “thing” in public policy in the USA.

    1. absentee landlord… …. that term always seemed odd. Do you want your landlord living with you ?

      1. He did for 30 yrs., upstairs. Actually, yeah, that was a good thing. I moved out 3 mos. ago; new landlord’s far away, but has relatives left in charge across the street from here.

      2. “Absentee” sounds scary.

  13. Thugs gotta thug

  14. Government is just another word for the homes we choose to kick families out of together.

  15. Next in the series: “Shooting Your Puppy As An Effective Law Enforcement Tool”

  16. Civil Asset Forfeiture: When eminent domain costs too much.

    1. Point taken, said point being, if nothing else, INTERESTING.

  17. And I’m afraid under “law-and-order” Trump this officially sanctioned criminal behavior will only get worse.

    1. How much worse do you think it might get, and what is the liklehood of such movement?

  18. Pardon me, if you will, for speaking bluntly, but in essentially 84years of life, I do not recall ever hearing such nonsense. Since when has Theft Under Color of Law, how I define Asset Forfeiture or Civil Asset Forfeiture been described as anything but the above. Definition of not, this scam is nothing but Theft Under Color of Law

  19. This bit of verbal magic reminds me of a story I heard many years ago, when the then King of England was unfortunately seriously bow legged. One day, while parading before the populace, a young lad noticed the king’s condition, and loudly commented thereon. The child’s mother, much put out by her son’s illadvised observation chastised her son, telling him that he should not speak so crudely of the king. Her son, being a smart kid, took seriously his mother’s advice, and replied as follows. Hark hark, what manner of creatures are these that carry their balls in parentheses?. It was noted that the child spoke in a somewhat quieter voice.

  20. Civil asset forfeiture is the mechanism by which law enforcement agencies?local and national?use administrative and court systems to take and keep people’s money in assets without actually having to prove they committed a crime. This FBI piece openly acknowledges in this little story that civil forfeiture targets property, not people, and is “not dependent on a criminal prosecution.” They justify this violation of due process because it’s for our benefit. They explain that it’s to better facilitate giving back to crime victims:
    ????? ???? ???
    ????? ???? 2017
    [I]f the case involves depreciating assets (like cars), we can civilly forfeit those assets faster than in the criminal proceeding, then liquidate the assets and get them back to the victim at a better return than if we had held the assets until the criminal case was completed. We also do parallel cases to ensure we can forfeit the assets civilly in case the defendant flees or dies before the forfeiture order is handed down.

  21. Scott, have you or anyone at Reason looked into the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau? I understand that have fined banks $1 billion and only returned a small portion to victims. Where does the rest go?

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