Government Generously Hands Back Two-Thirds Of The $626,000 It Stole From Two Men Driving Through Missouri

from the bullshit-on-top-of-bullshit dept

A case out of Missouri is highlighting yet again the stupidity and vindictiveness that defines civil asset forfeiture. In January 2017, law enforcement seized $626,000 from two men as they passed through the state on their way to California. According to the state highway patrol, the men presented contradictory stories about their origin, destination, and the plans for the money found during the traffic stop.

The complaint filed against the money made a lot of claims about the government’s suspicions this was money destined for drug purchases. Supposedly evidence was recovered from seized phones suggested the two men were involved in drug trafficking, utilizing a third person’s money. Despite all of this evidence, prosecutors never went after the men. They only went after the money.

Records searches of both state and federal courts did not identify any criminal charges against Li, Peng or Huang.

Even the speeding that predicated the stop (in which a drug dog “alerted” on the rental vehicle that contained no drugs) went unprosecuted.

This is where the stupid begins: alleged drug dealers allowed to continue their drug dealing by state and federal agencies more interested in the men’s cash.

But it gets stupider. This was offered up in the complaint against the seized money as evidence of the men’s criminal activities.

Authorities noted in the complaint he lived “9 houses” away from the site of a residence where drug transactions were occurring and a contact in his phone was recently the subject of a civil forfeiture action.

That’s some mighty fine evidence. If you happen to live in the same neighborhood as a known criminal, I guess you’re a criminal, too. That’s just how society works, ladies and gentlemen. Move to a better neighborhood if you don’t want to be lumped in with your worst neighbors.

The other part is stupid, too. According to this line of thought, if law enforcement has stolen cash and property from someone in your Contacts list, you must be a criminal. Only criminals would associate with people whose stuff has been taken by the government but have never been convicted of criminal activity.

Also apparently suspicious: traveling and not attempting to avoid mandated IRS reporting.

Peng had a number of bank transactions the complaint states were “highly unusual” including multiple deposits and wire transactions for about $100,000 each. Financial records also showed three trips between Chicago and California and one from Chicago to New York in a three-month period between November 2016 and January 2017.

You just can’t win. Keep deposits too low (under $10,000) and the federal government thinks you’re engaged in structuring. Keep them well above the mandatory reporting mark and you’re probably a drug dealer.

It appears the agencies involved in this seizure didn’t think they had enough real evidence to follow through on this forfeiture. More than two years after the $626,000 was seized, the government is returning it to its rightful owners. That’s where the vindictiveness comes in. The government hasn’t won a criminal or civil case against any of the people involved, but it’s still going to keep a third of the cash just because.

U.S. District Attorney for Western Missouri Tim Garrison, in a settlement agreement dated April 25, wrote the government will return almost $418,000 to claimant Lu Li, of Chicago, and will keep almost $209,000.

Even when the government loses, it still wins. One-third of $626,000 remains in the hands of a government that couldn’t prove anything it alleged, even in a civil case where the standard of proof is considerably lower.

In the end, we have three people short $200,000 and a government that can’t competently prosecute people or their money, even when the latter can’t defend itself in civil forfeiture litigation. [waves American flag with one blue stripe frantically while humming ‘The Ballad of the Green Berets” for some reason]

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Comments on “Government Generously Hands Back Two-Thirds Of The $626,000 It Stole From Two Men Driving Through Missouri”

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46 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Clear 4th Violation

Forget the 5th. Whether the CONstitution really be one thing or another. It has either authorized such a government as we have had; or has been powerless to prevent it. Knowing that they do what they want, of what good is that document. Not to mention those "rights" have been usurped by the patriot act and the ndaa.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Possible, but I suspect it’s less ‘We’re doing this to stop the drug trade!’ and more ‘We’re doing this because we can, and because it’s stupidly profitable’ for most of them. At this point a cop would have to be really thick to think that acts like this are anything but ‘get-rich-quick’ schemes, what with not a single charge filed yet property stolen left and right.

Pixelation says:

While I think asset forfeiture is massively abused, I have to wonder about this case.

" Li allegedly told investigators who contacted her by telephone after the stop that the men were transporting the cash to California for her so she could purchase a home."

Huh, if I had over $600k in cash, I certainly wouldn’t give it to someone to drive across the country (unless it was a Brink’s truck). In fact, I probably wouldn’t let it leave my sight unless it was in a bank. VERY fishy.

wshuff (profile) says:

Re: Re:

You think it is suspicious. Fine. But law enforcement has demonstrated that it can find everything suspicious. The driver was too nervous. The driver was too calm. He looked at me. He refused to look at me. He was driving on an interstate. He was driving on a back road. His car was too clean. It was too dirty. If there is a real suspicion, then arrest somebody. Investigate. Bring charges. If you cannot come up with evidence to do that, then your suspicions are unfounded. So why should that be worth $200k to the government?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Yes, unless the person was arrested and charged with a CRIME dealing with that money and found GUILTY in the court of law, the police should have no right to get their grubby hands onto the money. That is Highway Robbery by the police. It’s pretty disgusting. They’re no better than the criminals.

alternatives() says:

Re: Re: Re:

The driver had a picture of a mushroom on them. Mushrooms are a sign of drugs is the statements in the appellate record.

Wonder how it would work out for Amanita Muscaria pictures – a poison AND in low doses hallucinogenic. Would you be an exterminator because the mushroom and milk kills flies, a murder suspect AND a druggie all at once?

sarah patel (profile) says:

Please Understand to me That Statement

It appears the agencies involved in this seizure didn’t think they had enough real evidence to follow through on this forfeiture. More than two years after the $626,000 was seized, the government is returning it to its rightful owners. That’s where the vindictiveness comes in. The government hasn’t won a criminal or civil case against any of the people involved, but it’s still going to keep a third of the cash just because.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Stupid criminals go to jail. Smart criminals get a badge

U.S. District Attorney for Western Missouri Tim Garrison, in a settlement agreement dated April 25, wrote the government will return almost $418,000 to claimant Lu Li, of Chicago, and will keep almost $209,000.

Better idea: Instead of allowing the police to keep over two hundred thousand in stolen money, they should have been forced to hand over not just the entire original amount, and pay all the legal fees of the people they robbed, but each individual with a badge involved should have been penalized just like anyone without a badge would have been for armed robbery of over $600 thousand.

Whether that involved a hefty fine, jail time, or both, they all should have been treated as the criminals they are and punished for a successful armed robbery. As it stands they came out ahead not only without any penalty at all, but $209 thousand ahead, and if anyone doesn’t think that’s going to send the message of ‘rob everyone you can, you risk nothing and stand to gain extensively‘ to anyone with a badge in that general area they need to head to the ER immediately, as it’s clear they’ve recently taken a severe blow to the head that’s greatly impairing their mental abilities.

Anonymous Coward says:

Yes its possible I was wrong about you, however seizing your money and inventing justification to prove I had the right to seize it… Well that was a HUGE effort. I had to spend my own very valuable time to transport, count, pocket a portion for myself, fill out creatively worded paperwork accusing you of drug sales, inform my superiors, file said paperwork, deposit my portion in the bank, brag to my co-workers, redo the paperwork I screwed up, eat 3 or 4 doughnuts, file the corrected paperwork, etc… Plus since the seized money was in police custody, there were significant additional costs incurred on a daily basis for storage of the seized assets. Including guards to protect it, a manager to oversee the guards, fire and theft insurance, etc… So honestly you should be grateful, keeping a third barely covers our costs, we could have kept more.

Anonymous Coward says:

How do these victims account for their losses on their tax returns?
Do they claim a loss of some sort or a non business related bad debt?
Either way it is a write off rather than a credit so they only get a few cents on the dollar if that, and it could lead to an audit. Apparently the level of IRS funding is so low that they can not afford to audit those who gain a lot of assets/resources/money.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Now that would make for an interesting case, filing money stolen by the police as stolen goods to the IRS. Probably wouldn’t work(as the IRS accepting that would require them to admit that the police can and do steal from people), but if someone wanted to go legal and insist that the IRS accept it as valid it could certainly make for an interesting court case.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: I'm pretty sure the IRS doesn't care about circumstances.

Getting Capone for tax evasion created a precedent that they’re not supposed to report to other authorities taxable income gained by illegal means (whether through graft or racketeering or simply by working while illegally in the US). Otherwise, not filing would be justified under the fifth amendment.

I’m pretty sure the IRS doesn’t care if it was the police who stole your money and stuff, or that they might get in trouble because you filed it as such. The IRS just wants your payment to be exact and your papers all to be in order.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Reported transports of cash to the IRS

I wonder what happens when someone reports the intention to transport cash and then changes their mind at the last moment (or forgets the duffle at home).

Do we end up with an angry morass of police officers harassing a car with dogs and guns trying to find the money, claiming they’re looking for drugs? Do they ultimately walk away with the passenger’s wallet?

Dennis Moore says:

Stand and deliver!

Not on your life – bang – aagh!

Let that be a warning to you all. You move at your peril, for I have two pistols here. I know one of them isn’t loaded any more, but the other one is, so that’s one of you dead for sure…or just about for sure anyway.
It certainly wouldn’t be worth your while risking it because I’m a very good shot. I practise every day…well, not absolutely every day, but most days in the week. I expect I must practise, oh, at least four or five times a week…or more, really, but some weekends, like last weekend, there really wasn’t the time, so that brings the average down a bit. I should say it’s a solid four days’ practice a week…At least…I mean…
I reckon I could hit that tree over there. Er…the one just behind that hillock. The little hillock, not the big one on the…you see the three trees over there? Well, the one furthest away on the right…

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