Audits Of Asset Forfeiture Program Uncover Funds Used To Pay Student Loans, Property Used As Rent-Free Housing

from the stealing-our-way-to-justice! dept

Student loan debt is a serious problem here in the US as the price of higher education continues to outpace every standard economic yard stick. Lots of people think the government should step in to do something about it. While the administration makes helpful noises and tries to figure out how it can effectively tell Americans it’s alright to rack up debt and walk away from it without actually, you know, encouraging Americans to get deeply in debt and walk away from it, one government employee is taking the bold steps the US government won’t to eradicate student loan debt… specifically, his.

In a 2014 audit of the DA’s office representing Washington and Nowata counties [Oklahoma], the State Auditor’s Office found that $5,000 in forfeiture funds had been used to make payments on an assistant district attorney’s student loans.

That’s a pretty egregious abuse of seized funds, and that’s even if you find the whole asset forfeiture system mostly abuse-free when it comes to seizing property. Unbelievably, the DA’s office defended the use of the public’s money to pay off personal student loans.

The report said the district attorney maintained the expense was justified because most of the cases the assistant DA prosecuted were drug cases.

Which means what? That he was involved in several drug prosecutions and therefore entitled to a percentage of the take for his own personal use?

But no need to worry about the misspent $5,000. The DA’s office has already “repaid” it using money seized a bit more lawfully via taxation.

After the issue came to light, the Oklahoma District Attorneys Council reimbursed the $5,000 using funds from its own student-loan program, the State Auditor’s report states.

So, everything’s cool now. Except:

A 2009 audit of the District Attorney’s Office that represents Beaver, Cimarron, Harper and Texas counties found that a Beaver County assistant district attorney began living rent-free in a house obtained in a 2004 forfeiture. A judge had ordered the house sold at an auction, but the prosecutor lived there through 2009.

A bold new opportunity in real estate! Open to law enforcement members only!

There’s so much more.

Schroedinger’s seized pickup truck — listed as “sold” at an auction — remains in a sold/unsold state as neither the pickup, the paperwork nor the cash generated from the sale can be located. One district further perverted the perverse incentives by spending seized money before it had even been processed by the courts. In other instances, the money made its way onto the ledgers as “seized,” but forfeiture cases were never filed. (This is particularly evil because without a filing, there’s almost no way to challenge the seizure.)

The violations found by these audits are the sort of thing everyone should have expected when they allowed law enforcement to start seizing property without bringing criminal charges. Guns, vehicles and cash go missing. Proceeds from auctions are used to pay court costs and fund retirement parties. The program basically allows officers to steal from people they’ve already dehumanized as “drug traffickers.” So, if someone’s property goes missing and ends up as an off-the-books personal use vehicle/gun for some cop, no one’s going to spend too much time worrying about the supposed “criminal” whose property has been seized. That’s why the accountability is so lax and that’s why the laws granting officers these powers need to be — at minimum — rewritten, if not taken off the books entirely.

And, as is always the case when asset forfeiture is attacked by legislators and regulators, there’s a caricature of law enforcement on hand to offer homespun words of wisdom in defense of the legalized theft:

“I know for a fact we all try to work very hard to rid this devil’s candy (drugs) off of our state. And for someone to try and push us back — sheriff’s departments, police departments — that’s how we continue our fight, is to take that money and go forward,” Stradley said. “That will set us back many, many, many years.”

Will it set you back to 1990? And put you right in the middle of the crack epidemic? Or will it take you back to the 1920’s, when marijuana was making jazz music tolerable and turning non-Caucasian males into rapists? How many years exactly will forcing Oklahoma law enforcement to accompany seizures with criminal charges set back these agencies? We all want to know. Even those of us who swore off the devil’s candy years ago or never made it past anything harder than devil’s food cake.

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Comments on “Audits Of Asset Forfeiture Program Uncover Funds Used To Pay Student Loans, Property Used As Rent-Free Housing”

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40 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I think being a drug dealer is more honest than being a government employee these days. At least a drug dealer is honest about what they sell, the transaction is consensual (the drug addict knows what they’re buying and that it’s bad for them) whereas the government taxes you (or seizes your assets) and squanders that money for personal use against your will which is essential theft (not saying taxes are theft but the government misuse of taxpayer money for the personal use of govt employees is).

Then again there can be such a thing as a dishonest drug dealer (ie: if the drug dealer knows the drugs are laced or not exactly what they claim to be).

RS says:

Please, PLEASE tell me.....

How can I, an undeserving useless waste of civilian flesh that may someday have the unfortunate luck of having my assets seized, help change this outrageous Asset Forfeiture Program that many areas of the government are using as their local piggy bank?

PS. Seriously, what can one person do?

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Please, PLEASE tell me.....

Unfortunately it’s worse than that. As I noted below, a big part of the problem is that the general public has bought into the idea that criminals don’t have rights, which means anything can be done to them, like robbery at badgepoint, and there’s nothing wrong with it, simply because they’ve been accused of wrongdoing.

Replacing the corrupt scum that benefit from robbery at badgepoint, and as a result defend it is a good first step, but to really deal with the problem will require changing public perception regarding ‘crime’, and in the US at least people are very fond of revenge/retribution, so they’re not likely to easily accept the shift towards the idea that everyone, even the guilty, deserve to be treated justly and fairly.

That One Guy (profile) says:

'Criminals don't deserve the protection of the law'

So, if someone’s property goes missing and ends up as an off-the-books personal use vehicle/gun for some cop, no one’s going to spend too much time worrying about the supposed “criminal” whose property has been seized.

That is one of the nastier ideas that has infected ‘law enforcement’ specifically, and even society in general, the idea that if you break the law, or are even accused of breaking the law, that it means you no longer deserve to be protected by the law. I’ve even seen people argue this in the comments section on TD, the idea that those that act outside the laws have, by their actions, removed themselves from the protections the laws provide, and no longer deserve any sort of fair or just treatment by the system, because criminal/terrorist.

‘Sure we stole a bunch of stuff from someone, without any sort of trial or anything, but look, they’re a criminal, that makes it okay!’

This idea however is terrible, as both ‘guilty’ and innocent both deserve the full protection of the law, otherwise it becomes utterly meaningless. If you can strip away someone’s right simply by accusation, or even the finding of guilt, then those protections cease to exist, and are merely optional, to be applied at whim.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: 'Criminals don't deserve the protection of the law'

Lets also not forget that in some states felons can’t vote and so they get marginalized/disenfranchised. It also defeats the purpose of democracy by subjecting people to laws and punishments that they had/have no vote/say in.

I read a discussion on the matter here

Someone wrote (not me)
staby gnuman (5013) on Monday July 27, @12:40AM (#214077) )

“Well, in US you can’t even vote in many places if you are a felon, never mind own guns. And if you can’t vote, then you can’t affect public policy, so well, you get shafted and marginalized.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Felony_disenfranchisement#United_States [wikipedia.org]

[blockquote]
In the national elections 2012, all the various state felony disenfranchisement laws added together blocked an estimated 5.85 million felons from voting, up from 1.2 million in 1976. This comprised 2.5% of the potential voters in general; and included 8% of the potential African American voters. The state with the highest amount of disenfranchised people was Florida, with 1.5 million disenfranchised, including more than a fifth of potential African American voters
[blockquote]

So in Florida, you have 20% of black community that cannot vote. Talk about skewed elections!”

The entire discussion is worth reading.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: 'Criminals don't deserve the protection of the law'

and the irony here is that the shills would come here and argue that a more direct democracy is ‘mob rule’ and discriminates against minorities. But it gives those minorities a voice just like everyone else because, when it comes down to it, everyone is in some way a minority depending on how you break down the categorizing system.

For instance saying that every voter is ‘human’ puts voters in a majority. Saying that some voters are ‘hispanic’ or ‘arab’ or ‘Of European descent’ puts them in a smaller majority or a minority. Saying that some voters are from a specific country of origin or are descending from such a country narrows it down even more. You can find all kinds of standards to narrow it down even more and more. and everyone turns into a minority in a sense that everyone is unique once the qualifications are narrowed down enough. We all mostly have slightly different beliefs, different ancestors from different parts of the world, etc…

But what’s happening here gives certain minorities no voice at all and so strongly discriminates against them. It is a lack of democracy, not democracy itself, by removing the ability of some to vote, that discriminates against minorities. Democracy gives everyone, including all minorities (and everyone is a minority in some way or another) a voice. A lack of democracy favors certain minorities (ie: the ruling class) over others. A less direct democracy favors the ruling class (a minority) and those that grease the palms of the ruling class (another minority). A more direct democracy gives every minority (which we all are) a stronger or more equal voice.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: 'Criminals don't deserve the protection of the law'

Let’s see if I got the formula right:

Felony Disenfranchisement
Everyone’s a Felon (Three Felonies a Day)
Prosecutory Discretion
Systemic Pressure to Plea-Bargain +
————————————————
Systematic disenfranchisement of every unfavored minority group ever.

Check my work?

Justme says:

Re: 'Criminals don't deserve the protection of the law'

That is one of the nastier ideas that has infected ‘law enforcement’ specifically, and even society in general, the idea that if you break the law, or are even accused of breaking the law, that it means you no longer deserve to be protected by the law.

It’s more like. . .

That is one of the nastier ideas that has infected ‘law enforcement’ specifically, and even society in general, the idea that if you break the law, or are even accused of breaking the law, that it means you no longer deserve to be protected from the law.

Bergman (profile) says:

Re: 'Criminals don't deserve the protection of the law'

It gets even more hypocritical when you consider that in most states, official misconduct is also a crime.

Then on the federal level, a public official (such as a police officer, though certainly not limited to police) who uses their official authority (color of law) to violate any statutory, civil or constitutional right has committed a federal crime — and if two or more of them work together to do so (say, an officer and his partner) it’s automatically a felony, for BOTH of them.

If they feel they don’t have to treat accused suspects well because criminals don’t deserve rights, then act on that belief, they themselves become criminals — equally undeserving of rights!

Anonymous Coward says:

“The report said the district attorney maintained the expense was justified because most of the cases the assistant DA prosecuted were drug cases.”

If anything this makes the whole thing a lot less justified. It would be much more justified if most of the cases were of actual crimes, with real victims (like murder), instead of victimless crimes based on laws whose existence is so widely controversial.

Anonymous Coward says:

In other instances, the money made its way onto the ledgers as “seized,” but forfeiture cases were never filed. (This is particularly evil because without a filing, there’s almost no way to challenge the seizure.)

I would have thought that would be awesome. No charges have been filed on the property so you could charge the cops with illegally arresting the property / grand theft. They haven’t filed any paperwork to make it a legitimate seizure…

Jack says:

Re: Re:

One little problem with your genius idea – with no paperwork that your money/property was seized and no records of anything, what judge is going to believe that the police stole your property? The judge is going to tell you that you are a lying scumbag because police don’t just steal people’s shit. And for your insolence and wasting the courts time he is going to refer you to the prosecutor for a perjury investigation.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: paper work

if the paperwork is not filed there is no proof the police seized the money, and generally people who have a gun to their head will not antagonize the fellow with his finger on the trigger by asking for a receipt for the money seized.

If F.O.I. laws worked it may be possible to demonstrate that legal procedures were not followed, a big IF.

Rekrul says:

I have a possibly dumb question;

In most cases where the cops take money from someone they’ve stopped, that person is usually given a choice of letting the cops take the money or be arrested. If a person refuses to let the cops take the money and they are arrested, does that throw a monkey wrench into the asset seizure? Does the money they were going to seize then become evidence? And if they fail to produce any evidence of wrong-doing or even any reasonable suspicion, does that make it harder for them to seize the money?

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re:

In most cases where the cops take money from someone they’ve stopped, that person is usually given a choice of letting the cops take the money or be arrested.

Do you mean a cop might threaten to arrest you if you don’t voluntarily hand over your money? I’m sure that happens, but I’ve never heard of any actual law that says the subject has a choice of arrest or seizure.

Coyne Tibbets (profile) says:

Forfeiture for the gander

The DA’s office representing Washington and Nowata counties acquired assets by civil forfeiture. Those assets were then misused in crimes by the DA’s office.

So it seems to me the appropriate response would be for the state to seize the assets in question, so the local DA can’t misuse them anymore.

After all, what’s sauce for the goose is also sauce for the gander.

David says:

Re: Re:

Chances for criminal prosecution are pretty much zero since that would require the District Attorney to bring the suit, and the District Attorney’s office is usually getting a payout as well.

And the only thing worse for their career than losing a suit against a layperson is winning one against law enforcement members.

When doing the smart thing and doing the right thing are entirely different, the legal system is failing its job.

Anonymous Coward says:

I hope you continue to follow this,

and report if the guy is brought before the state bar. There are bad apples. But we don’t put a gold star on them and put them back in the Barrel.

The defining factors are: the payment was retroactive, concealed, without authorization, and without oversight. A bonus check payable to the DA could have been endorsed to the school, which would have accomplished the same thing legally, in the same number of steps.

So it’s simple tax fraud. The fact that it was an education loan, bears only a tangential relationship. I understand the “I got rogered by my student loans” angst. I feel your pain. But this isn’t that.

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