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]

Filed Under: asset forfeiture, cash, doj, forfeiture, legalized theft, lu li, missouri


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 May 2019 @ 7:49pm

    Clear 4th Violation

    Sue the ever living pants off everyone involved for violating their 4th Amendment rights. They should get the missing 3rd back plus punitive damages in excess of a million for their trouble.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 21 May 2019 @ 9:40pm

      Re: Clear 4th Violation

      Forget the 4th man, read the 5th!

      "...nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation."

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Rocky, 21 May 2019 @ 11:05pm

        Re: Re: Clear 4th Violation

        If the cops spend the money privately, do they still run afoul of "for public use" ?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 22 May 2019 @ 4:17am

        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.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 22 May 2019 @ 10:11am

        Re: Re: Clear 4th Violation

        That's why the government takes money: money belongs to the government, not individuals.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      AnonyOps, 22 May 2019 @ 1:43am

      Re: Clear 4th Violation

      It's settled. They can't sue. The police have a theme song tho. It's high production quality: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFDcoX7s6rE

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 21 May 2019 @ 8:19pm

    These assholes probably thought they were playing Robin Hood when they were really the Sheriff of Nottingham.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 22 May 2019 @ 1:58am

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Bill Poser, 21 May 2019 @ 8:40pm

    rationale?

    Does the government even offer a rationale for keeping $200K of the money it stole?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    nicholas triterous reach, 21 May 2019 @ 8:46pm

    reiterated loop variables

    The government wants all of your money to give to the multi trillion aires and wants to kill you totally dead in the anus.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 21 May 2019 @ 11:24pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Rocky, 22 May 2019 @ 1:10am

      Re:

      Remember, a lot of people do stupid stuff that can look fishy for reasons that are equally stupid which we know nothing about.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 22 May 2019 @ 1:43am

      Re:

      ... and? 'Suspicious' is not grounds to be robbed originally, and it's certainly not grounds for keeping any amount of the money involved.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      wshuff (profile), 22 May 2019 @ 5:08am

      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?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 22 May 2019 @ 7:59am

        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.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 22 May 2019 @ 8:15am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Not only should the property owner have to be proven guilty but the property itself must be proven to have been either used in enacting the crime or from proceeds of said crime.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        alternatives(), 23 May 2019 @ 2:55am

        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?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 22 May 2019 @ 6:19am

      Something being “fishy” should not be, on its own, legally tenable grounds for either arrest or asset seizure.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Uriel-238 (profile), 22 May 2019 @ 12:55pm

      Fishy transport of cash

      People are commonly denied bank accounts for a variety of reasons. Being nonwhite is just one that could apply in this case.

      I supposed they could have spent 3% of the value to secure a money order, but then the police could have seized it anyway, and spent it.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    sarah patel (profile), 22 May 2019 @ 12:15am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 22 May 2019 @ 1:54am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    peter, 22 May 2019 @ 3:17am

    So.......

    1/3 of the cash is guilty, but 2/3 is innocent.

    Right?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Flakbait (profile), 22 May 2019 @ 5:44am

      Re: So.......

      Yes. That's why it took 2 years to get the money back. They had to interrogate and investigate the backgrounds and alibis of each individual bill. Proper due diligence is time consuming.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 May 2019 @ 6:03am

    Someone better tell Kevin Bacon because based on the six degrees of Kevin Bacon he must be a drug dealer too. And so are we all.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 May 2019 @ 6:26am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 May 2019 @ 6:27am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Oblate (profile), 22 May 2019 @ 6:51am

      Re:

      IRS Form 4684 – Casualties and Thefts, seems designed for the job.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 22 May 2019 @ 2:52pm

        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.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Uriel-238 (profile), 22 May 2019 @ 5:43pm

          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.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 May 2019 @ 7:38am

    ACAB

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Peter (profile), 22 May 2019 @ 7:40am

    Sounds like ...

    ... the opposite of punitive damages.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    bob, 22 May 2019 @ 8:54am

    $200,000! Now that is highway robbery

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    crade (profile), 22 May 2019 @ 9:26am

    How do you settle a case "against money" like this where you don't get to participate in the defense? Did the people who had their money taken negotiate for and agree to the settlement, or was it just decided for them?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 May 2019 @ 10:49am

    Please tell me theya re going to keep fighting this.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 May 2019 @ 11:17am

    There ought to be a law

    Oh, wait, the people taking the money are the sames ones making the laws.

    No wonder I post anonymously.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Dave, 22 May 2019 @ 12:45pm

    Related adage

    "Don't steal. The government hates competition."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 22 May 2019 @ 12:58pm

    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?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Dennis Moore, 22 May 2019 @ 1:02pm

    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...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 May 2019 @ 7:48am

    Should be a travel advisory for the state of Missouri.

    There should be travel advisories for states that do this.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    dr evil, 1 Jun 2019 @ 10:42pm

    corrupt government

    I would sue the money for allowing itself to be kidnapped and then admonish it to quit pretending it was for drugs and send it to its room

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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