My goal is for every person to understand that civil forfeiture is an attack on American families. Civil forfeiture has absolutely nothing to do with fighting crime. The U.S. Justice Department and law enforcement agencies use civil forfeiture to seize property from families for the sole purpose of filling their coffers. It is corrupt at its core. It is government theft. It allows law enforcement to bypass Congress for funding and oversight. It is individual taxation without representation. It is the very reason our forefathers separated from England and fought the American Revolutionary War.
In 1985, the U.S. Department of Justice created the Asset Forfeiture Fund. One year later, the fund -- which holds the proceeds from seized property and is available to be paid out to law enforcement agencies -- brought in $93.7 million. In 2008, the amount had ballooned to $1.6 billion. In 2013, it reached $6.3 billion. The Justice Department collected roughly $8.1 billion in civil and criminal forfeiture actions in fiscal year 2013, which is nearly three times the appropriated $2.76 billion budget for the 94 U.S. Attorney's offices and the main litigating divisions in that same period. Critics have highlighted several cases which had dubious justification, and deprived unprosecuted citizens of money and property. American citizens are being deprived of their property without due process of law on a daily basis in this country.
Members of Congress like to ignore the abuses because civil forfeitures are a source of funding. Congress doesn't have to impose or raise taxes to fund the Justice Department and law enforcement. Congress has completely abandoned its duty to defend and protect the property rights enshrined in the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
We need to end civil forfeiture, not modify it or even reform it. Criminal forfeiture is when someone is actually convicted of a crime and then there are forfeiture proceedings following the conviction. Civil forfeiture is different. Under civil forfeiture, the person doesn't even have to be charged with a crime. In the administrative division, there is no due process and there is no fair and impartial hearing on the property taken.
The victims of civil forfeiture are the families, often children, and not the targeted person. A forfeiture attorney in New Mexico told me that twenty years ago, most of her cases were people charged with crimes. Now, most of her cases involve people who have never even been charged with a crime. They often have to walk away from their property because it is too expensive to litigate to get it back. For instance, the trial phase of a CAFRA proceeding is at least $50,000. The appellate phase is another $50,000. The prosecutors who lose at a CAFRA trial usually appeal to bankrupt the citizen.
The Asset Forfeiture Fund allows the U.S. Justice Department to ignore the directives of Congress because the U.S. Justice Department is now self-funded and doesn't rely on appropriations. That's why AUSA Michele Korver can target Burt and ignore the directives from FinCEN. AUSA Korver wouldn't drop the sole charge against Burt until she coerced him to give money to the Asset Forfeiture Fund. This case wasn't about fighting crime; it was about stealing money from my family to fund the U.S. Justice Department. Why else would the government surround a house and seize property over a business license, i.e., paperwork.
I have lost my retirement funds and my 8 year old daughter's life has been forever altered over an alleged failure to have a business license. How are we not the victims of civil forfeiture? How did the civil forfeiture laws thwart crime in this case? There was no crime. The case was dismissed. But our family still had to forfeit our savings to the Federal Government. How is that justice? How is that even Constitutional?
Our government leaders and governmental agencies have been complicit in eroding the Bill of Rights (the Patriot Act), destroying our representative democracy (Citizens United), and destroying the checks and balances set forth in the Constitution (civil forfeiture laws).
If Homeland Security will use a Patriot Act statutory provision meant to fight terrorists as a tool to target and arrest Burt, imagine what Homeland Security will do to you. Homeland Security acted under the Patriot Act using sealed search warrants to raid our home, our office, and our client's office and seize our property. Burt was arrested under a sealed arrest warrant and thrown into solitary confinement. All this was done to fight the alleged crime of failure to have a business license.
Ask your US Congressman to support H.R. 540, the Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration Act (FAIR Act). The passage of the Patriot Act and the creation of the Federal Asset Forfeiture Fund created the environment that led to the corruption of the U.S. Justice Department and federal law enforcement. The FAIR Act seeks to restore the checks and balances between Congress and the Justice Department.
Homeland Security Terrorizes Family
To learn about civil forfeiture, watch these YouTube videos from John Oliver and the Institute for Justice (click the play button):