Asset forfeiture

Norquist: Pennsylvania House Needs to Pass Asset Forfeiture Reform This Year

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Posted by Krista Chavez on Tuesday, October 25th, 2016, 5:07 PM PERMALINK

On Friday, Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist co-authored an opinion editorial for PennLive with Faith and Freedom Coalition Executive Director Timothy Head and Freedom Works CEO and President Adam Brandon on why Pennsylvania needs civil asset forfeiture reform in 2016.

The article emphasizes PA Senate’s recent vote to pass asset forfeiture reform in its house to “improve property rights across the state.” Now, it is up to the House Judiciary Committee to get the bill through the legislature before this session ends in November.

Civil asset forfeiture, the process where law enforcement officials can seize property from citizens who have not been criminally convicted, has been significantly abused in Pennsylvania. Recently, the state’s Attorney General, Kathleen Kane, admitted to seizing $1.77 million in cash using civil asset forfeiture laws to profit off the seizures. On this issue, the article states:

“The money is very good in the forfeiture business – if you happen to work for the government. So good, in fact, that it becomes easy to lose track of it.

A current case in point involves now-disgraced Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane, who only recently admitted to seizing $1.77 million in cash using civil asset forfeiture laws.

As questions grew louder, the circumstances involving the cash – that had been sitting in boxes in her office for nearly two years – came to light.”

Millions of dollars sat in Kane’s office for two years, and there was no significant mechanism to check this seizure.

In the Institute for Justice’s Policing for Profit report released last November, Pennsylvania received a D- for its poor protections of innocent property owners, low bar for police to seize property, lack of conviction required to take property, and harmful use of profit with 100% of forfeiture proceeds going to law enforcement.

Pennsylvanians deserve to be treated better by law enforcement officials. That is why Americans for Tax Reform supports the current civil asset forfeiture reform bill in the state’s House of Representatives that passed the State Senate 43-7.

Please read and share Norquist’s article (found here) on these necessary measures to restore Pennsylvanian property rights before the 2016 legislative session ends. 

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Pennsylvania SB 869 Supports Citizens’ Fifth Amendment Rights

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Posted by Krista Chavez on Wednesday, September 28th, 2016, 4:04 PM PERMALINK

Today, the Pennsylvania General Assembly is voting on Senate Bill 869 which, if passed, would increase due process rights for innocent property owners in civil forfeiture cases and preserve the ability for police officers to confiscate illicit profits of actual offenders.

Pennsylvania police collect about $10.9 million on forfeitures alone per year on average. Police also seized over $118 million from property owners between 2000 and 2013.

The proposal, introduced by Senator Folmer (R-48), would increase the standard of proof to “clear and convincing evidence,” and simplify asset forfeiture laws in one chapter of the Pennsylvania Code to increase transparency for the practice. It also requires reporting on seized assets so community members can track the final location of money received from the sale of confiscated assets.

Americans for Tax Reform sent the Assembly a letter of support yesterday where President Grover Norquist stated:

On behalf of Americans for Tax Reform and our supporters across Pennsylvania, I write today in strong support of Senate Bill 869 that, if passed, would advance the Fifth Amendment rights of your constituents…

Innocent property owners in Pennsylvania have had their entire homes seized based on accusations that their family members sold drugs in the property. Property rights are integral to liberty, they must be better protected.

To help curb these abuses, the new law would increase the standard of proof from “preponderance of the evidence” to “clear and convincing.” Though ultimately a conviction should be required of any asset forfeiture, this shift of the burden of proof balances the onus against the state in a positive way.

Moreover, these new reforms would simplify the asset forfeiture laws, placing them in one chapter of the Pennsylvania Code, which will help enhance transparency and rationalize the practice. SB 869 also requires increased reporting on seized assets, so that legislators in Harrisburg, and their constituents, can keep better track of the funding police agencies get from the sale of confiscated assets.

Police forces need the trust of their communities to do their jobs effectively. Civil asset forfeiture, erodes that trust and antagonizes innocent civilians. These reforms help to restore trust in local and state police by reassuring constituents that their civil liberties are paramount in Pennsylvania law.

I encourage you to extend your support for this important legislation.”

Find a copy of the full letter here.

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Congress Acts Unanimously to Prevent IRS from Looting Innocent Taxpayers

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Posted by Krista Chavez on Monday, September 26th, 2016, 4:53 PM PERMALINK

On Thursday, the House of Representatives voted unanimously to pass H.R. 5523, the Clyde-Hirsch-Sowers-RESPECT Act, to end the Internal Revenue Service’s abuse of asset forfeiture in structuring cases. Americans for Tax Reforms applauds Congress for acting efficiently against these violations.

Specifically, the bill prohibits the IRS from seizing funds from property owners who allegedly committed structuring violations unless the agency can prove that the money was used in criminal activity.

Ways and Means Committee Chairman Peter J. Roskam (R-Ill.) and Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-NY) named the legislation for Andrew Clyde, Jeffery, Richard, and Mitch Hirsch, and Randy Sowers. These American small business owners were wrongfully persecuted by the IRS under the structuring rule.

In May 2016, Roskam held a hearing for Protecting Small Businesses from IRS Abuse, where a bipartisan coalition joined to denounce the IRS and the Justice Department’s actions that seized the property of law-abiding Americans. Facing serious backlash from Congress, the IRS agreed in June 2016 to give some or all of the money back to those who it had seized assets on structuring accusations.

“Structuring” refers to the phenomenon that allows the IRS to seize funds from bank accounts when authorities suspect that account deposits are designed to avoid reporting laws.

About the bill, Roskam noted,

“Today we took a big step toward delivering justice for victims of IRS abuse. It’s clear to everyone involved that the IRS and DOJ abused their authority and took money from people who did nothing wrong. With today’s legislation, we’re making sure they can never do it again. I want to thank the Clyde, Hirsch, Sowers, and Taylor families for their bravery and willingness to share their stories in the hopes of preventing future injustice. I appreciate the support of Ranking Member John Lewis and Congressman Joe Crowley on this bipartisan bill. I’m glad we can finally put this ugly chapter to rest.”

Americans for Tax Reform applauds Congress for taking unanimous action against the blatant violation of taxpayer rights by the IRS. 

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Stealing Money from Travelers: How the DEA Can Search, Seize, and Profit Without a Warrant

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Posted by Krista Chavez on Wednesday, August 17th, 2016, 10:00 AM PERMALINK

An investigation spanning the past several months by USA Today found that the Drug Enforcement Administration consistently searches through American travel records to seize millions of dollars using civil asset forfeiture.

It claims to be looking for drug traffickers, but the agency rarely uses the information found to actually make arrests. According to the USA Today investigation, DEA agents work with Amtrak agents and officers from nearly every major U.S. airliner to seize millions from people carrying large amounts of money. The units seized more than $209 million from over 5,000 people over the past decade, but the DOJ only took 87 federal cases to court to seize cash from travelers.

Assuming these 87 cases were included in the 5,000 number, only 1.7% of all seizures actually get prosecuted in court for drug trafficking. If the DEA is actually “combatting major criminal activity,” then it would actually be arresting and prosecuting these so-called criminals.

The DEA has also built one of the largest wiretapping operations in U.S. history in the suburbs of Los Angeles according to USA Today’s research. These investigators intercepted over 2 million conversations from around 44,000 people, according to federal court records. This operation once accounted for 1/5 of all U.S. wiretaps. Investigators found that DEA agents used these wiretaps to seize drugs and millions of dollars in cash, and they would tip off other investigators from other agencies. DEA agents then instructed the investigators to conduct their own independent searches (aka. parallel construction).

Riverside County’s District Attorney noted that for every 3 wiretaps last year, 1 arrest was made-one of the lowest rates of any jurisdiction in the nation conducting wiretaps.

When the Justice Department found out about this, it expressed fears that “the surveillance issues are unlikely to withstand legal challenges.”

Even the DOJ warned that this practice could be determined illegal, but the DEA continued to illegally watch, search, and seize from American citizens.

The DEA also became close with Amtrak employees and wasted more taxpayer dollars. More USA Today research found that the administration paid an Amtrak employee more than $850,000 since 1996 to serve as a confidential informant for the agency to identify and combat contraband trafficking. This money did nothing, for the information received was always available to the DEA at no extra cost. Another employee also received money ($9,701) for information again freely available to the DEA. The administration’s Inspector General noted that the project not only violated federal regulations but also “substantially wasted government funds.

The Justice Department, in accordance with the Drug Enforcement Administration, must end its ridiculous crusade against the rights of Americans by stopping its illegal search and seizure practice done in the name of civil asset forfeiture. When the inspector generals and district attorneys warn the agency and it continues this process, the department needs to end its vicious, million-dollar tirade against taxpayers. 

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Legalized Debit Card Theft: How Civil Asset Forfeiture Became More Controversial

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Posted by Krista Chavez on Monday, June 13th, 2016, 1:46 PM PERMALINK

According to a report released by Oklahoma Watch last Tuesday, The Oklahoma Department of Public Safety purchased “Electronic Recovery and Access to Data” (ERAD) machines to assist law enforcement with seizing funds in asset forfeiture cases. Oklahoma has been struggling with frequent civil asset forfeiture abuses and it seems like state law enforcement are trying to step up the use of forfeiture rather than reforming it.

The devices allow officers to seize funds on debit cards from people that are suspected of drug trafficking but do not have cash present with them at the time. The report notes that,

“The portable card scanners are designed to be carried in law enforcement vehicles, allow troopers to freeze and seize money loaded onto a prepaid debit card, and to return money to an account whose funds were seized or frozen. The vehicle-mounted scanners are also capable of retrieving and storing limited account information from other cards as well, such as banking debit cards, credit cards and payment account information from virtually any magnetic stripe card.”

If the process of civil asset forfeiture wasn’t already controversial enough, law enforcement decided to purchase these machines in order to seize a person’s funds out of his or her own private bank accounts without any additional due process. Officials claim that these devices are essential to hinder drug trafficking in the state.

This new development happened after a highly publicized seizure involving a Texas charity worker who had $53,000 confiscated over a broken tail light. Eh Wah, a volunteer manager for a Christian rock band, was driving across Oklahoma when he was stopped by local police and had the charity money he was travelling with seized. In light of events like these, state police seek to expand their confiscatory powers.

Moreover, not only do these machines violate the individual’s right to property and privacy, but they are also extremely expensive. The Huffington Post noted that each ERAD costs $5,000 plus an additional $1,500 for training. In the state’s deal with the manufacturer, 7.7% of all proceeds seized with the ERADs will be returned to the manufacturer, the ERAD Group.

State Sen. Kyle Loveless (R-Oklahoma City) expressed his discontent for the program, stating that “Law enforcement’s going to say that there are good uses for it and that they use it on a limited basis, but this is deja vu all over again. We heard that last year and we’ve seen innocent people’s stuff taken. We’ve seen how [law enforcement] spins it and it’s just not right.”

Oklahoma legislators need to stop thinking about profit and start thinking about the constitutional rights of its citizens. The ERAD program violates privacy and property rights, and it should be renounced as the violation of fundamental rights that it is.

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Maryland Stands for Citizens with New Civil Asset Forfeiture Law

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Posted by Krista Chavez on Friday, May 20th, 2016, 3:58 PM PERMALINK

Americans for Tax Reform congratulates Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) for passing sweeping provisions to end civil asset forfeiture yesterday. The bill, SB 161, was introduced by Senator Mike Hough (R-Frederick), among others, and marks a major victory for property rights advocates.

Maryland’s effort to end asset forfeiture comes as Congress continues to grapple with the issue. Yesterday, Rep. Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.) introduced the DUE PROCESS Act which adds protections for innocent property owners and ensuring that property owners can contest wrongful seizures. It requires the government to give property back to owners and makes it easier for them to be heard in court. By allowing property owners to an initial hearing, the DUE PROCESS Act gives owners an opportunity to physically retrieve their confiscated property early in the process if it was not lawfully seized. It also places a higher burden of proof on the federal government, further benefiting property owners.

Unfortunately, it does not address equitable sharing, a method by which local law enforcement can avoid state restrictions by using more lenient federal forfeiture rules.

Hogan’s actions highlight a clear problem facing Maryland. According to the Institute for Justice’s Policing for Profit report, Maryland’s civil asset forfeiture laws, “suffer from a troubling lack of transparency: Agencies are not required to track or report their forfeitures.” Also, the burden of proof in Maryland it was the duty of the property owner to prove the innocence of his property rather than having the government prove the guilt of the accused.

The Maryland reform joins 9 states who reformed their asset forfeiture laws, noted by the Center for Public Integrity. 11 more bills are currently pending in different 7 states.

It is clear that the concept of civil asset forfeiture is damaging to the property rights of all Americans. Not only does it allow law enforcement to seize property without a warrant, but it does not require that they prove why they took it or if criminal activity occurred. Legislators around the country are beginning to notice.

ATR applauds Maryland lawmakers and Hogan for championing the rights of innocent Marylanders. 

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ATR Supports Alaskan State Rep. Wilson’s H.B. 317 to Reform Asset Forfeiture Laws

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Posted by Krista Chavez on Wednesday, March 23rd, 2016, 3:26 PM PERMALINK

Civil asset forfeiture is a common issue that is self-evidently abusive. For this reason, Americans for Tax Reform is endorsing Alaska’s new asset forfeiture reform bill, H.B. 317, introduced by Rep. Tammie Wilson (R-North Pole).

The proposal calls for a conviction before law enforcement can keep any seized assets permanently. To reflect the criminal nature of forfeitures, the standard of proof would also be raised. Profit incentives would also be removed to enforce legislative oversight for the state’s police budgets.

In the United States, approximately $5 billion were seized by law enforcement in 2014 alone. Most of these seizures came without convictions. Alaskan police can currently take citizens’ cash, car, or firearms based solely on the suspicion of a crime. In some cases, law enforcement can keep up to 100 percent of the proceeds from a forfeiture.

This does not protect the rights granted to U.S. citizens. The Fourth and Fifth Amendments protect due process and property rights.

Read an excerpt below of ATR’s letter to Rep. LeDoux:

“On behalf of Americans for Tax Reform and taxpayers everywhere, I am writing to you to express my strong support of House Bill 317. This bill would reform Alaska’s civil asset forfeiture laws to add additional protections for law-abiding citizens…

HB 317 would provide crucial constitutional protections by requiring that a defendant be convicted of the underlying crime before cash or property can be permanently seized. This provides the necessary due process to ensure fairness while maintaining asset forfeiture as a tool for law enforcement. Standards of proof would also be raised to reflect the criminal nature of forfeitures.

Transparency requirements would also be bolstered in addition to removals of profit incentives to ensure legislative oversight over the state’s police budgets. Police departments should not self-fund outside of the legislature: its common sense…

Wyoming, Michigan, Maryland, New Mexico, and Florida are just some of the many states that have taken asset forfeiture seriously. Alaska should join the growing club of states that put their citizens’ rights first.

I implore your colleagues to extend their personal support for this important legislation. For more information, please contact Jorge Marin in my office at jmarin@atr.org."     

-Grover Norquist

President, Americans for Tax Reform                                                                     

 

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Wyoming Steps Towards Supporting Civil Liberties in Asset Forfeiture Reform

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Posted by Krista Chavez on Thursday, March 3rd, 2016, 2:09 PM PERMALINK

In a unanimous vote (60-0) to support the rights of citizens, the Wyoming House of Representatives approved Senate File 46 to reform the state’s civil asset forfeiture laws, followed by a signature from Gov. Matt Mead (R) two days ago.

Civil asset forfeiture is a legal process that empowers law enforcement to seize and claim property suspected of being connected to a crime: no conviction required. Critics of asset forfeiture, of which Americans for Tax Reform is one, express concern that the practice creates incentives for police abuse while violating property rights. 

Although the law does not require the authorities to gain a criminal conviction before seizing property, it does require several steps before judges can allow property to be seized. First, it demands that law enforcement contacts the attorney general before conducting the seizure. A judicial hearing would then occur within 30 days to determine sufficient probable cause to continue with the seizure.

The law shifts the burden of proof to law enforcement to prove “clear and convincing evidence” that the property was involved in a crime in order to be seized. It also specifies if property is wrongfully forfeited, the court must cover legal fees and award damages to the property owner.

According to the Wyoming Liberty Group, total amounts seized by law enforcement in 2010 was $272,589.84. From 2008-2013, officers seized a total of $2,868,032.31 from citizens. Only a little more than $1 million of this was refunded to citizens.  

When the bill came to Gov. Matt Mead’s desk, the legislature remembered his previous veto of a 2015 bill that required a criminal conviction before property could be seized. Mead previously stated that “he didn’t know of any issues with the state’s current asset forfeiture law,” when he issued the veto. Signing this bill into law is a step towards fair laws for citizens in Wyoming in a system that previously received a “C” from the Institute for Justice’s Policing for Profit report.

Americans for Tax Reform applauds the Wyoming Legislature and Mead for supporting the civil liberties of their constituents and voting in favor of Senate File 46.

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ATR Commends the Florida Senate on Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform

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Posted by Krista Chavez on Thursday, February 11th, 2016, 4:59 PM PERMALINK

Florida Senate Bill 1044 passed the Senate Judiciary Committee today with a 5-2 vote today. The proposal would attempt to fix Florida’s lax civil asset forfeiture rules in favor of stricter protections for property rights and due process. State law enforcement receives close to $20 million per year in confiscations through asset forfeiture thanks in part to some of the weakest protections against arbitrary forfeiture in the nation. Currently, agencies are not required to report the amount of assets seized leading to a blurred system that violates citizens’ rights.

Under the new law, law enforcement would be required to have a conviction of a crime and proof that the property in question was connected to the crime for assets to be seized. The legislature should now take up forfeiture reform and take their place among the states willing to put their residents first.

Read the full endorsement below:

Dear Chairman Diaz,

State legislatures across America have been changing their laws concerning the controversial practice of “civil asset forfeiture.” Now, Florida has an opportunity to be a national standard-bearer on due process protections. Americans for Tax Reform is proud to endorse SB 1044—a bipartisan bill that would secure the property rights of Floridians from arbitrary seizures from overzealous authorities.

Florida has some of the weakest protections for property in the nation—leading to a staggering $20 million per year in confiscations through asset forfeiture. Since agencies are not required to report the actual amount of assets seized, the full amount is unclear.

This is unacceptable.

Agencies should not have the ability to fund themselves by confiscating the property of innocent individuals. The founders established Fifth Amendment due process protections for this very reason.

Civil asset forfeiture is the kind of system which undermines the trust between hardworking law enforcement and their communities. By leaving the door open to arbitrary abuse, mutual trust between communities and the men and women tasked to protect them is compromised. In a country based on the rule of law, no one should fear that they could be deprived of their property without the opportunity to defend themselves.

Furthermore, the perverse incentive created by civil forfeiture encourages law enforcement to profiteer from the communities rather than fight crime as they were meant to do.

Senate Bill 1044, written by senators Jeff Brandes, Joe Negron, and Jeff Clemens allows for asset forfeiture but under the necessary conditions required to protect the rights of the innocent. The new law would require both a conviction of a crime and proof that the property in question was connected to the crime for assets to be seized and appropriated.

I encourage the both the committee and the legislature to support SB 1044. Civil asset forfeiture was an old idea poorly implemented and damaging to both police departments and communities. With this legislation, Florida can be considered a national leader in due process and civil rights. If you have any questions, please contact ATR’s criminal justice manager Jorge Marin at jmarin@atr.org.

Sincerely,

Grover G. Norquist                                                    

President                                                                    

Americans for Tax Reform      

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ATR Supports Civil Asset Forfeiture Legislation in Maryland

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Posted by Krista Chavez on Thursday, February 11th, 2016, 11:00 AM PERMALINK

Last month, Maryland passed legislation to improve the state’s due process protections against the controversial practice of civil asset forfeiture. Now the Maryland State Senate is considering a new proposal to prohibit state law enforcement from Maryland State Senator Michael J. Hough (R).

Senator Hough presented S.B. 161 in the Judicial Proceedings committee on Thursday along with Sens. Jamie Raskin (D) and Bobby Zirkin (D). It would require criminal conviction and proof that the seized property was connected to the crime committed. The proposed reform also improves reporting standards of forfeited assets. 

Click here for the full endorsement, excerpt below:

"Dear Chairman Vallario,

State leaders from New Mexico, to Michigan, to North Carolina have been rolling back the confiscatory practice known as “civil asset forfeiture.” Now, Maryland is set to become a national standard in property rights protection. Americans for Tax Reform is proud to endorse SB 161—a bipartisan bill designed to ensure the protection of Fifth Amendment Rights for Marylanders...

"Civil asset forfeiture, like the overcriminalization of normal every-day activities and the use of excessive fines and fees casts a shadow of our nation’s police. The sad truth is that by leaving the door open to arbitrary abuse, the trust between communities and the men and women tasked to protect them is eroded. There is simply no justification for relying on men and women who have not been convicted of a crime to either fund the government or simply give up their property without proof of guilt...

"I encourage the both the committee and the legislature to support SB 161. Civil asset forfeiture was an old idea poorly implemented and damaging to both police departments and communities. With this legislation, Maryland can be considered a national leader in due process and civil rights. If you have any questions, please contact ATR’s criminal justice manager Jorge Marin at jmarin@atr.org."                                           

-Grover G. Norquist, President of Americans for Tax Reform

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