Before Forfeiture Is Finalized, Sheriff Racks Up 54k Miles On Seized Vehicle, Sells It To Private Buyer
from the road-(drug)-warriors dept
Documents provided by Outside Legal Counsel show the department seized the Ostipow’s 1965 Chevy Nova SS on April 24, 2008, when the vehicle’s mileage was 73,865. [Sheriff William L.] Federspiel, who signed the vehicle title transfer form, sold the partially restored muscle car over a year later on June 4, 2009, for $1,500.
The vehicle’s title certificate filled out by Federspiel around the time it was sold says the mileage was 130,000 — 54,000 miles more than when the department seized the car.
The backstory to this seizure and extended joyride starts at the plaintiff's farm. In 2008, the sheriff's office obtained a warrant to search a second house on the Ostipow's property -- one in which their son lived. In the house, deputies found marijuana plants and seeds. The Ostipow's steadfastly maintain they knew nothing about their son's illegal activities. Presumably, they allowed him to live his own life in a house located some distance away from theirs. [Photo courtesy of Outside Legal Counsel]
Ostensibly there for drugs, deputies soon broadened their horizons.
Instead of only seizing the illegal plants and seeds, deputies seized essentially everything from the farmhouse, including, oddly, dozens of animal mounts being kept long-term at the farmhouse by Gerald because Royetta, his wife, simply didn't like these mounted animals in the main house.
But that is not all the deputies seized. The deputies also went out to outbuildings of the farmhouse and seized all the equipment, deer blinds, hundreds of tools, and many other items which lacked any realistic connection to the pot plants and seeds of Steven's grow. They even seized the '65 Nova and the car trailer it was on.
Not satisfied with cleaning out the farmhouse the Ostipow's son resided in (as well as every building surrounding it), the deputies returned with another warrant and cleaned out the Ostipow's house -- one located a half-mile away from the supposed grow operation. They found no illegal evidence, but that didn't stop them from taking plenty of their property, including the cash in Gerald Ostipow's wallet.
Then they just kept coming.
In the weeks that followed, deputies from the Saginaw County Sheriff's Office would arrive, off duty, in their personal vehicles and would continue to take more items long after the completion of the execution of the search warrants. No inventory tabulation exists for these items taken and there appears to be no records of these "self-help" items being officially sold.
The proceedings -- which have dragged on for eight years now -- never resulted in criminal charges against the Ostipows. After a trip up to the state Supreme Court, it was finally determined that Gerald Ostipow "should have been aware" of the grow operation taking place on his property. But it was also determined that Royetta's (Gerald's wife) interest in the belongings taken was free and clear. The Sheriff's office was ordered to return most the property it seized.
The problem is that the Sheriff's department no longer had the property it seized, including the vehicle it racked up 54,000 miles on.
However, the injury inflicted upon the Ostipows was not complete. After the final judgment was entered, it was discovered that all of the Ostipow's property had been sold by Sheriff Federspiel (he himself having signed the vehicle title transfer document for the Nova) and members of his department before there was a final determination about forfeitability of items seized and held.
The department's actions are indicative of an agency that seldom has trouble retaining anything it designates as "guilty" property. So secure was the sheriff's office in its belief that it would ultimately prevail -- despite never bringing criminal charges against the couple whose assets it seized -- that it moved ahead with converting the property to cash without having any legal right to do so.
The Ostipows are now suing [PDF] the sheriff and his deputies in federal court for blithely blowing past even the minimal protections granted to victims of asset forfeiture. In addition to $1 million+ in damages, the Ostipows are seeking declarations that the asset forfeiture processes deployed by the sheriff's department are Constitutional violations and the compelled released of documents requested by the couple in an earlier FOIA request.
Hopefully, Sheriff Federspiel will learn from this experience. Then again, he's already converted a seized Mustang into a department/personal vehicle and has gone on record with statements that portray his anti-drug efforts as shopping trips for his department.
Federspiel hopes his department will claim more vehicles through drug forfeiture or drunk driving laws to equip his six-person cadre of captains, lieutenants and sergeants by the end of his first term. “I don’t want to buy another vehicle for my command staff,” he says.
He’s targeted a 2008 black Cadillac Escalade which, if acquired, would become the mobile, anti-drug dealing billboard for Undersheriff Robert X. Karl.
Given that this is the voice of leadership in the department, it's hardly surprising deputies feel search warrants entitle them to grab as much as they can from citizens they either can't or won't bring charges against.