Massachusetts District Attorney Delays Forfeiture Proceedings For Years, Some Involving As Little As $10

from the bringing-down-crime-lords-at-$10-a-pop dept

We all know how lousy civil asset forfeiture is. In lieu of actual criminal charges, cops (and feds) just seize any property they can get their hands on, turning other people’s money into pure profit for law enforcement agencies. Money they can often spend with little to no oversight.

It’s a profitable venture. Cops steal more than actual crooks do, netting billions a year across the nation. The legal process for forfeiture asks very little from law enforcement — rarely more than a mild hunch the seized funds are linked to criminal acts. The government has a very low bar to meet in most cases. For the people who’ve suddenly seen their money taken away, the bar is much higher.

In most cases, the government gets to decide when forfeiture proceedings begin. It also doesn’t have to make much of an effort to notify forfeiture victims that proceedings have begun. That leads to a lot of default wins for government agencies. The amount of money it takes to hire a lawyer to challenge a forfeiture is often more costly than the funds seized, leading to even more government “wins.” Every cheap win is treated like a victory in the war on crime, even when it’s usually nothing more than the government making some random person poorer.

In the state of Massachusetts, one particular District Attorney is ensuring there’s no due process when it comes to asset forfeiture. Thanks to severely lax laws, there’s no lower limit for seizures, which means the DA’s office is more than happy to help cops nickel-and-dime people to figurative death. There’s also no legal obligation for the office to move forward with forfeitures in a timely fashion.

This has led to the DA’s office waiting for as long as possible to initiate some proceedings. And, since the office takes home a percentage of every successful forfeiture, it does as little as possible to ensure those who’ve had their money seized are made aware that proceedings are imminent. Saurabah Datar and Shannon Dooling have done some digging to produce this enraging report for ProPublica. (h/t @pakanukeha)

In an investigation with ProPublica, WBUR also found that Worcester County District Attorney Joseph D. Early Jr. regularly stockpiles seized money, including that of people not charged with a crime, for years, and sometimes decades.

In more than 500 instances between 2016 and 2019, WBUR found that funds had been in the custody of the DA’s office for a decade or more before officials had attempted to notify people and give them a chance to get their money back. One case dated back to 1990.

This is an obvious mockery of due process. And it has been the standard operating procedure for the Worcester County DA for more than 20 years. Not that anyone cares. Or could even be allowed to care. Nearly nonexistent reporting requirements means state and county oversight likely have no idea this is how the DA is handling forfeitures. Since there are no better rules on the books, there’s nothing compelling DA Early to change how he handles his forfeiture business.

Operating in an accountability vacuum, the DA’s office engages in bullshit like this:

Take, for instance, Commonwealth of Massachusetts vs. Twenty Eight Thousand Three Hundred Fifty Six Dollars Fifty Cents ($28,356.50) In United States Currency. At first glance, the sum seems to reflect proceeds from a substantial drug bust. But court documents actually list 109 separate names and seizures — including one as low as $11 — spanning nearly 20 years.

Among the names in this giant batch in 2018 was Jones-Bernier, whose $95 had been taken four years prior. He was listed in an ad the DA’s office ran in the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, as having no known address. Jones-Bernier didn’t know his name had appeared there until he was contacted by WBUR. He said Early’s office could have sent a letter to his home address, which was on his driver’s license at the time of the arrest.

This is how you end up with default “victories” that ensure the DA’s office scores some cash while doing nothing to serve the interests of the public. Nothing about this deters criminal activity. The DA’s office isn’t helping cops put bad people away and disrupt major criminal organizations. This is the work of a government-funded pickpocket.

WBUR’s analysis of Worcester County forfeitures from 2017 through 2019 found that more than half of the seizures in these cases were for less than $500. In one incident, Fitchburg police seized $10 from a man listed as homeless. In another, Sturbridge police took $10 from a 14-year-old boy.

Stealing is the DA’s business. And business is good.

His office brought in nearly $4 million in forfeitures in just the latest four years, from fiscal 2017 through 2020, according to analyses by the state’s trial court.

Despite all evidence to the contrary, the DA continues to claim this is a worthwhile venture, rather than the petty theft it appears to be.

Early said he’s proud that his office has spent large sums of confiscated money on youth programs and drug prevention. “I love taking the drug dealers’ money. I love taking their lifeblood and putting it back into the community,” he said.

Taking $10 from a 14-year-old is giving back to the community? Did you at least throw the homeless person’s $10 bill into the general fund to support shelters? Is your county more free of drugs since you’ve thrown your weight behind shaking down citizens for spare change?

All signs point to no. Here’s the data: Worcester County is still one of the most dangerous counties in the nation. Lifting loose cash from random residents hasn’t improved things at all. If there’s any downward trend noticeable here, it’s got nothing to do with the supposedly drug warring DA. It has to do with the general trend towards lower crime rates that has been ongoing for years all around the nation. Here’s the county’s crime rate per 100,000 people, sourced from the FBI’s crime data.

And the cops in Worcester are just as lousy as the District Attorney.

Worcester taxpayers have paid more than $4 million since 2010 to settle almost 30 lawsuits against the police department, according to records gathered by the group Defund WPD.


The payouts across the 27 settlements range from as low as $8,000 up into the millions. There are also more than a dozen lawsuits against Worcester police that haven’t been settled yet.

Seems like the $4 million forfeited by the DA’s office over the last four years would have covered the PD’s lawsuits for an entire decade. Maybe that’s where those funds should go. But until legislators in Massachusetts get serious about reforming this obvious abuse of an ideal, government employees like DA Early will continue to treat residents like ATMs.

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Comments on “Massachusetts District Attorney Delays Forfeiture Proceedings For Years, Some Involving As Little As $10”

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That One Guy (profile) says:

'Hey, those are our victims to exploit!'

Stupid criminals rob people and go to jail, smart criminals work for/as the DA and rob people with impunity.

At this point I can only assume that their only objection to other criminals is that they might be horning in on DA and local cops’ turf, because people and departments that blatantly corrupt clearly have no problem robbing the public blind.

This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.

Anonymous Coward says:

I feel like this Blog is steering the narrative towards non consequential pieces until the orange haired one does something stupid, which of course is inevitable. At that point it’s going to pounce with a barrage of pieces that stirs the hatred of the foreign leftists anew… It’s a shame this site can’t latch onto the myriad of juicy stories from Hunter’s art work and laptop or all the technology left behind in Afghanistan for the terrorists to exploit. This site has no political leanings!… lol .. says no one.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:


You have skewed priorities if you think district attorneys and police departments abusing their power to drain people’s wallets dry while doing nothing to deter actual crime is “non consequential”.


  • “Hunter’s art work” — So what.
  • “[Hunter’s] laptop” — Show us credible evidence that says it’s his.
  • “all the technology left behind in Afghanistan for the terrorists to exploit” — How do you know they’re not working on an article about that? This site isn’t about breaking news, after all.

Feel free to stop reading this site if you don’t like its tone/direction/political leanings. Hatereading doesn’t do anything positive for your mental health, anyway.

Door’s to your left! ????

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

juicy stories from Hunter’s art work and laptop

Let me know when he gets a job working for his daddy in the White House, and maybe I’ll give some kind of shit.

Until then, let me remind your stupid ass about the orange guy’s feckless cunt of a daughter using personal email, despite that being a key issue during the campaign.

And of that little cuck she’s married to not having a security clearance because he apparently shouldn’t be trusted.

Until I see some article about them, feel free to go fuck yourself, and your feelings.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: ... one has a uniform and badge?

Not so much as these days US cops seem to be little more than smart(or smarter in some cases) criminals who realized that going into the profession would allow them to break any number of laws with minimal if any consequences.

There are exceptions to be sure but they seem to be in the minority with the majority either of the ‘laws are for the peons’ lot or the ‘just in it for a paycheck and it’s not worth rocking the boat by objecting to the previous group’ sort.

tin-foil-hat says:

Re: Re: ... one has a uniform and badge?

I think the culture is such that even when someone’s intentions are noble they are no match for the culture. Even the so called "good ones" will not inform on the others unless it’s especially egregious. For example, if one of them is a serial killer who returns patrol cars with blood and rapist accessories inside.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: ... one has a uniform and badge?

I expect that the majority of US cops fall into that category, yes, where they personally might not gun someone down for fun but they’ll look the other way or lie for a cop that does, with the tiny percentage of actual good cops fired on a pretext or quitting in short order due to the hostile work environment they’ll face for ‘not being a team player’.

tin-foil-hat says:


If anything shows you that a government is unnecessary or even harmful when you add power and subtract accountability, it is the US.

"I’m from the government and I’m here to help". Complete fantasy. Never happened.

The government never helps. It’s like a virus. Not alive, but exists to perpetuate itself. No greater example exists than the grifting, corrupt, US legal system.

Paul B says:

Re: Corruption

You could also say that people are goverment. The values people have are reflected in the government created by those people.

Our population (or a percentage anyway) really loves a few awful things like, using minorities as scape gotes, stealing when we have the ability to do so and get away with it consequence free, ensuring we maintain our lives at the cost of others.

Government only does the right thing when it’s threatened with the results of the above items. The EPA was created because rivers were so bad they caught on fire. Consumer protection was created because so many businesses were just openly abusing customers (see $1 overcharge on your phone or cable bill). We the people only have power when the target is smaller than the total population seeking retribution for a wrong.

So the Gov here to help could happen, but only if its in the self interest of the government.

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