Asset Forfeiture

Cop Who Called Asset Forfeiture 'A Tax-Liberating Goldmine' Sued for Illegal Traffic Stop and Seizure

And he's running for sheriff of an Illinois county.

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Three people are suing a Kane County, Illinois sheriff's deputy who has championed asset forefeiture as 'a tax-liberating gold mine' for seizing their property during a traffic stop the suit contends was extended illegally.

Jessica Johnson, Derek Paddy, and Leo Cook accuse the Kane County Sheriff's Department and one of its sergeants, Ron Hain, of violating their Fourth Amendment rights during a November 2015 traffic stop, according to a federal civil rights lawsuit filed in October and first reported by the Chicago Tribune.

Hain, a veteran law enforcement officer running for Kane County Sheriff as a Democrat, is also an marketing specialist for Desert Snow, a company that trains police departments across the U.S. on highway drug interdiction and asset forfeiture.

The case is not unusual in its broad details, but it offers a window into the business of asset forfeiture and how police use routine traffic stops to trawl for drugs and cash. Under civil asset forfeiture laws, police can seize property—cash, cars, even houses—suspected of being connected to criminal activity, even if the owner is not charged with a crime.

Hain's campaign website says he has, over the course of his career, seized more than "4,000 lbs of cannabis, over 100 kilograms of cocaine and heroin, over 7 lbs of methamphetamine, more than 30 vehicles containing aftermarket hidden compartments used to transport contraband, and over $3,000,000 in illicit US currency."

According to the lawsuit, Hain has stated that using asset forfeiture governments can 'pull in expendable cash hand over fist.'"

The lawsuit is not the first time Hain's unusually blunt statements about the revenue potential of asset forfeiture have made the news. In a comprehensive 2014 investigation into how police use highway traffic stops to seize hundreds of millions of dollars from motorists without charging them with crimes, the Washington Post reported on both Desert Snow and Hains:

"All of our home towns are sitting on a tax-liberating gold mine," Deputy Ron Hain of Kane County, Ill., wrote in a self-published book under a pseudonym. Hain is a marketing specialist for Desert Snow, a leading interdiction training firm based in Guthrie, Okla., whose founders also created Black Asphalt.

Hain's book calls for "turning our police forces into present-day Robin Hoods."

The Post also reported that Hain created videos for Black Asphalt, Desert Snow's online information-sharing and messaging network that is used by tens of thousands of police officers across the country:

Computer-generated animations made by a Desert Snow marketing official featuring a cartoon cop called Larry the Interdictor have drawn especially ribald commentary. One is set in a courtroom where Larry insinuates that the defense lawyer questioning him is gay. He testifies that he disdains "Rastafarian douchebags who do nothing all day but smoke weed, live with their mom, and beat off to kiddie porn."

The federal lawsuit is the result of a November 2015 traffic stop, where Hains pulled over a black Chevrolet Impala with Minnesota plates for following too close to another vehicle and having heavily tinted windows. (This is a textbook example of finding a pretextual reason to perform a traffic stop, in hopes of establishing probable cause for a search.)

Hains briefly detained the Johnson in his police cruiser and wrote her a warning for not carrying proof of insurance.

The traffic stop should have ended there. Instead, Hains detained Johnson in the police cruiser while he asked the other passengers more questions. He noted they were extremely nervous, and one appeared to have marijuana flakes on his shirt. Hain called in a K-9 unit to search the car. After the dog failed to clearly signal the presence of any drugs, Haines searched the car himself.

That search turned up two guns, a large stash of heroin, and $8,000 in cash. However, the Illinois appeals court affirmed a lower court's ruling that all of the evidence should be suppressed, because it was found after Hain should have ended the traffic stop.

While the defendants in this case might not be the most sympathetic, the Kane County Sheriff's Department crossed the line from lawful police activity into a violation of Johnson's Fourth Amendment rights, according to the lawsuit and an October opinion by the Appellate Court of Illinois.

Hain's campaign did not immediately return a request for comment. The Kane County Sheriff's Department did not immediately return a request for comment. Desert Snow declined to comment.

The larger issue is how many innocent motorists are subjected to pretextual stops, illegal searches, and asset seizures.

In another Illinois asset forfeiture case this year, a Minnesota man is challenging the Illinois State Police's seizure of $340,000 from him during what he contends was an illegal traffic stop and search. See if the details sound familiar:

[Attorney] Mitchell Kreiter argues his client was unfairly and illegally targeted by state police when pulled over at 11:03 a.m. April 25 for going 61 mph in a 55 mph zone.

In a motion, Kreiter contends the area of the traffic stop actually had a 70 mph limit and the trooper immediately ordered the driver to sit in the back of the trooper's vehicle despite having a valid license and insurance.

Kreiter argues the trooper illegally prolonged the stop by issuing the driver a warning and later having a drug dog sniff around the vehicle where cash was found in the trunk.

Kreiter's client told police the money was for a used car auction and to sign a music deal. The man was held up to six hours by police before being released.

In an interview, Kreiter says no drugs were found, but the cash was seized anyway under Illinois money laundering statutes. They are currently in settlement negotiations with the Illinois State Police.

These stops happen every day, all over the country, and while the large drug and money busts make the evening news, the ones where police come up empty handed almost never do.

Earlier this year, an Illinois county prosecutor was indicted on 17 counts of official misconduct, including misappropriating forfeiture funds. The Illinois Supreme Court ruled in June that LaSalle County State's Attorney Brian Towne had created an illegal unit of special investigators within his office to carry out drug interdictions and asset seizures, exceeding his authority as a prosecutor.

"The unit seized vehicles, cash and other assets that amounted to hundreds of thousands of dollars," the Chicago Tribune reported. "The indictment alleges that Towne used money from those forfeitures to pay for a GMC Yukon and Internet service for his personal use, as well as for private business expenses."

Last year, the Justice Department Inspector General released a report finding that an Illinois police department spent more than $20,000 in federal asset forfeiture funds on accessories for two of its motorcycles, including after-market exhaust pipes, decorative chrome, and heated handgrips.

Civil liberties groups have long maintained that because forfeiture revenues directly fund police departments and prosecutor offices, it creates a perverse profit incentive that leads police to fish for seizures.

Law enforcement groups deny this, arguing asset forfeiture is a necessary tool to dismantle drug trafficking operations by cutting off the flow of illicit proceeds. "It's not about the money, it's about public safety and doing the job," Terrence Cunningham, former president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, told the Washington Post last year.

Someone should tell Illinois law enforcement.

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  1. If I leave a comment, can it be seized?

  2. I’m not sure why, but the cartoon cop Larry the Interdictor immediately reminded me of the Chester the Molester cartoon that ran in Hustler magazine many years ago.

    Somehow I think I’d prefer Chester to Larry, however.

    1. Chester is running for Senate in Alabama.

  3. “And he’s running for sheriff of an Illinois county.”

    And he’ll win.

  4. Hain has stated that using asset forfeiture governments can ‘pull in expendable cash hand over fist.’

    He’s not wrong about that.

    1. Does this mean the cops can be charged with RICO offenses? That’s futterwacken news, right there,

  5. Best to not travel with cash if you don’t want the highway robbers with badges to steal it. Because the practice isn’t going away. It’s been happening as long as governments have existed.

  6. All civil asset forfeiture proceeds should go to the office of public defenders.

  7. How long until they discover he’s been embezzling?

    1. Isn’t embezzlement the whole point?

  8. 4,000 lbs of cannabis, over 100 kilograms of cocaine and heroin, over 7 lbs of methamphetamine

    I wonder how much they were able to launder that into.

    1. Would have been a good party if cops had any friends or social skills.

  9. the defendants in this case might not be the most sympathetic

    Because they had guns and drugs? You know where you’re writing, right?

    1. Because in this case the cops were “right” from the perspective of enforcing existing laws.

      I am baffled by the pretext for seizing the $340k. Is it illegal to transport cash in Illinois? How do you bribe the politicians?

      1. Because in this case the cops were “right” from the perspective of enforcing existing laws.

        Yeah, I get it. It still reeks of “to be sure”-ism. The fact is, it doesn’t matter one bit how sympathetic they were. That’s kind of the whole point.

        1. You gotta pick your battles. It’s a better point within the article that we don’t hear about all the times the cops didn’t find anything.

          The $340k gets my attention because that might be an example of an innocent guy getting really screwed.

      2. I don’t know about cash, but there are signs on the interstate as you cross the river from Kentucky warning you that having more than two cartons of cigarettes will get you arrested for smuggling and tax evasion.

  10. “It’s not about the money, it’s about public safety and doing the job,” Terrence Cunningham, former president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, told the Washington Post last year.

    When someone says it’s not about the money, it’s absloutely about the money.

  11. The 4th Amendment clearly states that people shall be “secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, except when it’s about public safety and doing our jobs and stuff.”

    1. So totally quoting this from now on.

  12. Last year, the Justice Department Inspector General released a report finding that an Illinois police department spent more than $20,000 in federal asset forfeiture funds on accessories for two of its motorcycles, including after-market exhaust pipes, decorative chrome, and heated handgrips.

    We can’t have the police with cold hands, Ciaramella. Sheepers creepers.

    1. Honestly, the handgrips struck me as a legit expense in Illinois…

      1. That was my thought. The rest of it, not so much.

  13. Hains briefly detained the Johnson in his police cruiser

    That paints a truly bizarre picture. “Johnson” and “the Johnson” really are not the same.

  14. We should try pushing for civil forfeitures to go the local school districts. That could gain support. Not the ideal situation but better than it is currently.

    Us Libertarians need to start finding ways to make this party contribute something useful and step out of the shadows.

  15. Desert Snow, a company that trains police departments across the U.S. on highway drug interdiction and asset forfeiture.

    No doubt a company composed entirely of upstanding paragons of morality.

    1. I was just thinking how all all those guys must be as villainous as your typical drug kingpin….

  16. I would like to know how many “temporary arrests” (stops) result in no criminal charges compared to the ones that find drugs. What ratio? How would that figure be found? Not by asking the cops, I’m sure.

    I’m betting these “treasure hunts” are a constant daily function. It started when the govt. gave itself “permission” to throw out the 4th amendment and that made it “open season” on citizens.

    How long will this unConstitutional, lawless police activity be tolerated? How long will people celebrate non-existent freedom at sporting events? How long will the populace be willfully blind to the oppression all around them?

    Is this a nation of cowards?

  17. “Hains briefly detained the Johnson”

    I’ll bet Hains “detains” the johnson on a very regular basis.

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