Civil Asset Forfeiture

How California Deputies Became Highway Robbers

San Bernardino County deputies stopped the same armored-car driver twice and took nearly $1.1 million in cash owned by legal marijuana dispensaries.

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An organized group of Southern California bandits has brazenly hijacked armored cars and grabbed hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash. The heavily armed thieves reportedly have damaged trucks, hassled their victims, covered up video cameras—and even celebrated their haul. "Wowee!" and "way to go, buddy," they allegedly cheered, after pulling a recent heist.

You'd be forgiven for assuming that this is the latest example of California's ongoing crime wave, epitomized by "third world" scenes of pilfered freight trains and brazen smash-and-grab robberies. But it's nothing of the sort. Actually, it's more pernicious than the usual crime spree because a sheriff is the mastermind and his deputies are looting the armored cars.

For instance, San Bernardino County deputies stopped the same Empyreal Logistics armored-car driver twice and took a total of nearly $1.1 million in cash owned by legal marijuana dispensaries, per news reports. The government has not charged the armored-car company nor the cannabis firms with any crimes, but the sheriff keeps the cash, anyway. Critics are right to call it highway robbery.

Welcome to the dystopian world of civil-asset forfeiture, a drug-war relic that allows police—often at the behest of district attorneys—to take people's cash, cars, and properties based on their suspicion that the property was involved in a crime. Officials never have to prove that the property's owner was involved in a crime.

The agencies have every incentive to employ this strategy routinely given that they keep the proceeds and spend the money on vehicles, guns, and whatever. News reports found police so adept at abusing this process that they sometimes target people who own the kind of fancy SUVs and sports cars that they'd like to have available in their motor pool.

Not only does this process deprive Americans of their Fourth Amendment right to be safe against the government's searches and seizures, but it undermines the credibility of law enforcement by turning cops into our adversaries. San Bernardino County Sheriff Shannon Dicus claims that "80 percent of marijuana at dispensaries was grown illegally." If that's true, then the sheriff simply needs to, you know, go to court and prove it.

Did I mention that the police agencies—not the drivers, nor the cannabis companies—may be breaking, or at least severely twisting, the law? California law requires police to gain a conviction in the underlying drug case before seizing private property. Furthermore, federal law forbids sheriffs from targeting licensed marijuana businesses and from using forfeiture proceeds to supplant current revenues.

Why should police follow the law when they can take what they want and force victims to file lawsuits to get their property returned? Police often target victims without the wherewithal to fight back. Criminal enterprises can be amazingly creative, as anyone who has studied the cartels would know. Likewise, American law-enforcement scofflaws have come up with a creative workaround to pesky rights-upholding laws.

The "equitable sharing" program allows local agencies to "partner" with federal bureaus to conduct forfeiture operations. By magically turning a local raid into a federal one, sheriffs can circumvent their own state laws. Then the feds and locals split the loot. In this situation, the San Bernardino department can keep 80 percent of the seized $1 million-plus. And who is going to enforce the federal law when the feds get 20-percent of the action? If you wonder how justice works in countries where the police are untrustworthy, then this should provide insight.

Despite Dicus' blather about fighting illegal grows, it's clear what's going on. Sheriffs are exploiting the chasm between state and federal marijuana laws. Thirty-seven states have legalized some marijuana sales (recreational or medical), but the feds obstinately keep weed classified as a Schedule I narcotic along the lines of heroin and LSD.

This is not a partisan issue, by the way, as both the Biden and Trump administrations have been atrocious on the issue.

The libertarian Institute for Justice recently filed a federal civil-rights lawsuit, which makes this compelling point: "(I)t makes no sense to confiscate lawfully collected currency from Empyreal's vehicles as it is delivered safely to the financial system for greater transparency instead of investigating or enforcing against any businesses suspected to be non-compliant. The real reason Empyreal is being targeted is because it is very profitable for these law-enforcement agencies to seize the cash proceeds."

In a free society, laws should be logical and promote just outcomes, not create Catch-22 situations that punish honest people who are trying to comply. Yet the nation's cannabis laws are something out of an Orwell novel. For instance, legal cannabis shops are required to pay taxes, but federal laws restrict their access to the banking system and state laws limit their ability to pay in cash.

Then law enforcement agencies take advantage of the situation to bolster their own budgets. No friend of liberty should be celebrating this outrage.

This column was first published in The Orange County Register.

NEXT: Psychedelic Drugs Win Growing Respect

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  1. How California Deputies Became Highway Robbers

    By following the example set by their state government leaders?

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  2. Round here the cops have a few fancy cars with "We stole this from a drug dealer" emblazoned across the back glass.

    1. Leading the free world towards more freedom... By STEALING things from people, and then BRAGGING about it! Wow!

      1. A year after seeing an Escalade with that sticker the state passed a law requiring all asset forfeiture proceeds to into the state's general fund. A year ago the state banned the practice altogether. Though that doesn't stop police departments from giving the bust to the feds and taking 80% of the loot.

      2. Remember, all Cops are good Cops, unless they are capital cops.

        1. Yes, Back the Blue! EXCEPT if they are opposing mostly-peaceful insurrectionists, in which case we can advocate (in good faith as Trumpists) that we should "kill him with his own gun"!

          https://www.cbsnews.com/news/capitol-riots-cops-describe-facing-pro-trump-rioters/
          "Kill him with his own gun:" Cops describe being attacked by Capitol rioters

          As a "lawn odor" Back-the-Blue luster after the "R"-party dictatorshit, ALL THINGS (to include even the tiniest modicum of respect for LEOs, even respect for the very lives of LEOs), the typical Trumpist says, MUST give WAY! POWAH for the R-Party dictatorshit, as led by Trump, above ALL else, dammit!

        2. Let us pray to Saint Babbitt....

          1. Are you three done with your circle jerk yet?

            1. Are you don't moaning about how the Capital cop murdered her in cold blood?

              1. don't done

                stupid edit button

                1. Don't blame the button for your stupidity.

              2. When should we be done bemoaning protesters killed in cold blood, trollio?
                Is there a time limit?

                1. I mean, we're still talking about the Tiananmen Square guy 30+ years later.

              3. Sarc, crawl back into your bottle. You’re too gutless for any real debate. You’re too stupid too.

                Just keep going until liver failure sets in.

  3. Yes? This is exactly the sort of thing that anyone with any sense would expect when there is, in fact, no such thing as legal marijuana in the United States.

    There are five US states that do not have minimum wage laws. This does not mean there are five states where it is legal to pay people less than the Federal minimum wage, and anybody dumb enough to engage in a large-scale business as if it does mean that is going to discover that.

    I am not saying that either the Federal marijuana laws or the Federal minimum wage laws are a good thing. I am saying that the actual law is pretty clear, and this is the utterly predictable result.

    1. "I know no method to secure the repeal of bad or obnoxious laws so effective as their stringent execution."
      -- Ulysses S. Grant

    2. Except the county sheriff doesn't really have the authority to flout state law to enforce federal law.

  4. Bigus Dicus: for sheriff.

    1. I have a gweat fwiend in Wome named Bigus Dicus.

      1. "Wanks as high as any man..."

  5. Remember the RICO movement in the '70s and '80s? How its approach-- including civil asset forfeiture-- was supposed to bring down organized crime?

    Turns out it just brought organized crime in-house, to government.

    1. ~~ hey! these goombahs had a good thing going here ...

    2. "Do you know why I pulled you over today?"

      "No, officer."

      "I like your car. Please step out."

  6. I'm seeing the need for the marijuana folks to get smarter on their tactics. Why are they hiring armored cars to transport cash? An armored car is a huge indicator of cash on the move. Why make it easy for the cops to find and rob it? Move your cash in a Honda Civic.

    1. Operations like operation chokepoint have limited their use of banks and payment processors.

    2. I don't think that would help. They'd figure out pretty quickly what the alternate cash transport was, license plate scanners would tell them where, and if necessary, for $880K, they'd just follow it all over until it made its final pickup.

      1. Duh, that's what the drones are for....

  7. The San Bernardino Sun, "They chose him after interviewing three candidates for the position. A fourth applicant, William Loenhorst, wasn’t able to demonstrate he met the state requirements for a sheriff, said Curt Hagman, chairman of the Board of Supervisors."

    We now know what makes him an extraordinary sheriff.

    1. County sheriff should be an elected position.

  8. Sounds like the State Police should go arrest the Sheriff for violating CA law.

    I'm sure that'll happen any second now.

    1. Has that ever happened? As in state police telling locals or sheriffs that they're breaking the law and can't do that?

  9. I think Dillinger explained this.

  10. all state agents are highway robbers.

  11. This is the kind of thing that led to the BLM protests, and rightly so. But the Democrats created a diversion with the Defund the Police movement, so voters didn't notice those abusive police are hired, trained and managed exactly the way the Democrat machines, that run big blue cities, want them to act.

    As for Greenhut calling the Trump administration "atrocious" on civil asset forfeiture, the blame lies with Jeff Sessions who Trump admits it was a mistake to nominate. Trump deserves some credit for his EO on police reform. The Democrats speak of reimagining the police, but provide no details and few changes (some changes have occurred in some states).

  12. A form of state-federal arbitrage.

  13. What's the problem? Marijuana is still illegal under federal law, and California law enforcement can help federal agencies to enforce the law.

    This only becomes interesting once California passes a state law that prevents this kind of cooperation between California law enforcement and the federal government, like they did for immigration enforcement.

    Or perhaps progressives should stop trying to use the federal government to run everybody's lives. Let's not forget that progressives pushed for making drugs illegal, and now they don't want to lie in the bed that they themselves made.

  14. Fuck these scum in blue. Next load of money use several cars…forget the armored. You have a way better chance to get your money where it belongs.

  15. hello. hello

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