A nonprofit legal firm is concerned that police are treating regular Americans like ATMs and stealing their cash because the Department of Justice is paying private corporations to oversee asset forfeitures at a cost of over $6 billion.
According to Dan Alban, the director of the National Initiative to End Forfeiture at the Institute for Justice (IJ), there are $6 billion worth of reasons why we need to immediately reform civil forfeiture. Congress must take action to stop police from using citizens as ATMs.
Alban says that federal asset forfeiture is a lucrative industry.
By way of “asset forfeiture,” the government seizes cash or other assets suspected of being used in illegal activity. The majority of confiscations by the federal government are considered civil forfeitures, meaning the government may retain the property without filing criminal charges against the owner.
Earlier this year, the DOJ disclosed that it had given contracts totaling more than $6 billion to a number of private corporations to assist with asset forfeiture investigations.
According to documents from the DOJ, contractors are expected to assist with everything from conducting investigations and identifying assets for seizure to maintaining records and testifying in court.
IJ estimates that between 2000 and 2019, forfeiture brought in about $45.7 billion in income for the federal government. The money usually goes to both the federal government and local police departments.
The FBI has long touted forfeiture as a useful tool for doing anything from punishing criminals to paying victims to keeping communities safe.
The FBI said in a 2017 press release that forfeiture may also operate as a deterrence to others who might be contemplating illegal activity.
Critics, such as IJ, say that forfeiture is unfairly used against innocent Americans.
Forfeiture lays the burden of evidence on the property owner, not the government, and as it is a civil action, there is no recourse to a public lawyer, therefore fighting to obtain property back is tough and costly, as stated by Alban.
In 2021, the FBI conducted a raid on U.S. Private Vaults (USPV), and one of IJ’s customers had her retirement funds taken. The FBI raided the home of 58-year-old Linda Martin, seizing her safe deposit box and its contents, which included around $86 million in cash and tens of millions more in gold, silver, jewelry, and other valuables.
Later, USPV pled guilty to laundering money, but Martin, nor any of their hundreds of clients, faced criminal charges.
Seventy-eight percent of forfeiture cases handled by the DOJ between 2000 and 2019 were administrative, according to a prior IJ analysis, and they did this with little judicial oversight.