Asset Forfeiture

Missouri Cops Used Federal Loophole To Seize $2.6 Million From Drivers Who They Never Charged With Crimes

St. Charles County law enforcement used shady practices to seize motorists' assets without convictions.

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A new report uncovers a shocking civil asset forfeiture practice that allowed Missouri police to seize at least $2.6 million during traffic stops in a single year. 

As part of a larger series on national asset forfeiture cases organized by the Pulitzer Center, St. Louis Public Radio reported that St. Charles County law enforcement coerced at least 39 unsuspecting motorists into signing over their assets in 2018.

According to the report, officers would lie in wait for a car committing a minor traffic violation. Upon seeing the minor violation, officers would then pull the car over, question the motorist, and then direct them to a private towing lot owned by Superior Towing. While in the lot, officers would ask more questions and search the vehicle, all in the hopes of finding large amounts of cash or connections to drugs.

If a trained police dog smelled marijuana on the cash, officers then gave the motorists two options: they could go to jail, or sign their possessions away to the department and leave with a traffic ticket.

In the 39 documented stops, no criminal charges were filed. A third of the targets were stopped and taken to the lot after midnight. Additionally, nearly half of the drivers had either Hispanic or Asian surnames.

The Institute for Justice gives Missouri a B+ for its civil asset forfeiture laws. Technically, state law requires criminal conviction or a guilty plea before forfeiture, and the assets are supposed to go towards schools, not law enforcement.

So how did St. Charles cops get away with their shady stops?

According to the report, the answer lies in the federal Equitable Sharing program. The Department of Justice provides a guide to the program, which allows for the "potential to share federal forfeiture proceeds with cooperating state and local law enforcement agencies." By turning over their convictionless assets to the federal government, St. Charles law enforcement can split the funds 80-20.

A legislative effort to close this loophole and force law enforcement to comply with state law was defeated this year after the local police lobby quietly campaigned against it, calling it "anti-police." The reform effort was led by Rep. Shamed Dogan (Baldwin), a libertarian Republican who has been trying to reform convictionless civil asset forfeiture practices in the state for several years.

NEXT: Meet 2 Alabama Cops Proud of Seizing Panhandlers’ Signs at Christmas

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  1. they should get some bounty for this loophole in federal system 🙂

  2. It’s property that’s committing the crime. That’s why they let the people go.

  3. I had a ticket experience in Montana or Idaho about 20 years ago. I had just taken a new job in a different state. Closed the PO Box at the old address.

    Visited friends and relatives on a short road trip between the two jobs. I think it was Montana, but it may have bee Idaho. There was a 12 mile construction zone where they were re-graveling and chip sealing a road, and everyone had to follow a slow pilot truck through to avoid scattering all the new gravel. Apparently most of the people in front of me were locals, because I eventually ended up right behind the pilot truck.

    When the road returned to regular pavement, the pilot truck pulled off and waved me on. Naturally I sped up. Naturally I saw the “END CONSTRUCTION” and cop car turning on its lights at the same time. I pulled over so fast the cop car never even got up to speed or turned on its siren.

    Cop had a southern accent. Asked me if I had meant to drive so fast. I said no, I thought the construction zone had ended when the pilot truck pulled off and when the road was smooth again. He asked if I was going to drive that fast in a construction zone again; I repeated myself. He said the state had a new program where drivers could pay $40 on the spot instead of getting a ticket in the mail, and all I could think of was my lucky day, since I had just closed out the address on my drivers license. Got a receipt too, so for all I know, it was a real state program. But it sure smelled like extortion. “Well, I see what you mean, about thinking the construction zone ended back there.” Yeah, right, never thought of that angle before.

    1. Sounds like Montana.

      They used to not have speed limits at all on some of the highways until the Feds threatened to withhold funding unless they implemented one.

      Montana’s response? They implemented a speed limit enforced by a $5 fine payable on the side of the road directly to the officer. You got a receipt, and if you got pulled over for speeding in the same day you could show the receipt to avoid paying another $5 fine.

      1. That’s why speeding tickets are known as a “speed tax”.
        I drive in St. Charles county often so this article hits close to home.

  4. officers would then pull the car over, question the motorist, and then direct them to a private towing lot owned by Superior Towing.

    Never let a cop take you to a second location.

    1. Never answer yes when asked if you know why you were pulled over. Never consent to be searched. Never tell them anything without a lawyer.

  5. Cops steal more each year than robbers.

    1. That would be a tough one.

      I’ve seen attempts at saying that Civil asset forfeiture outpaces burglars in dollar value, but that has to be some cherry picked numbers to get to that conclusion. Most thefts go unreported, and the value stolen isn’t reported in FBI statistics.

      Still, it is in the argument – and Civil Asset Forfeiture definitely accounts for a bigger dollar value than the reported values for Burglary in the US. Which is unconscionable.

      And, as in most things these days, I blame the media. Sure, they’ll do a story on 20/20 every now and then. But if they were to dig in to this stuff like they do the stupid team based politics, we’d have put an end to it long ago. I sincerely doubt that a large percentage of the population has much of an idea about asset forfeiture.

  6. Dogan is from Ballwin, not Baldwin, which is part of St. Louis

  7. In the country I live in now, that would be called “corruption” and “bribery”. Actually, that’s what it’s called everywhere including the US. Codifying it doesn’t make it moral.

    1. It would not be called bribery. It would be called theft in any just society.

      There is no amount of paperwork that makes this sort of stealing into anything other than stealing. Unfortunately, the way the law works you’d get tossed in jail for contempt of court if you said that to the judge who oversaw your case attempting to get your property back.

      And in this case, you don’t even get a chance to sue to get your money back, because they have extorted you into signing away that right.

      There should be jail time for that. Instead, there’s a nice new entertainment system in the police lounge, and a cool new armored vehicle for the SWAT team.

  8. This story is written every few years by various news organizations but nothing changes. Here’s a quick fact that many find tough to believe but is true, every bill that’s been in normal circulation has hints of drug residue. Going back to the early 1980’s the DEA thought they could source drug dealers by running dogs over all the currency deposited over a predetermined time only to discover over 90% of the money had been in the hands of people who use or sell drugs even when the depositor of the funds were obviously not involved in drug use or sales.
    The second thing is that highway corridor has more cash forfeitures than any other place in the United States. You can watch video on YouTube where the K-9 officer practically forcing the dog to alert thus allowing the tow and search of innocent travelers to occur. The law enforcement officials in this area tout their seizures has proof of a problem . Yes it’s proof of criminal activity but by the law enforcement members and not the traveling public.
    So from Collinsville Illinois and heading through St.Louis Missouri the possibility of a car being pulled over for very minor infractions, the type that most other jurisdictions give warnings for is very high and with this knowledge I would travel another route even if it takes more time or more gas to get to your destination it’s worth it compared to the chance of being legally fleeced by people who we’re taught to trust LAW ENFORCEMENT !

  9. Taking on looter lobbyists without a clue as to how prohibitionist asset forfeiture causes financial panics, market crashes and depressions in a fractional reserve banking system is suicidal. Far worse it helps the looters to submerge the causal connection for long enough to shovel a few million more into their influence-peddling goonion soft machine. Asset forfeiture is what Bert Hoover, Reagan-Bush and Waffen Bush Junior used to completely wreck the economy in ways the dems never dreamt possible.

  10. According to the Institute for Justice (IJ), an admirable Washington, D.C.-based non-profit that protects citizens from outrageous government abuse “In 43 states, police and prosecutors can keep anywhere from half to all of the proceeds they take in from civil forfeiture—a clear incentive to police for profit.”
    The IJ has made civil forfeiture a top priority in 2020. Consider supporting them: https://ij.org/issues/private-property/civil-forfeiture/

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