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‘Congress must act to prevent law enforcement from treating Americans like ATMs’

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels

The federal government has announced a program to spend $6 billion to boost the amount of property Americans are required to “forfeit” to the government.

It’s a lucrative business for the feds. For example, a report from the Institute for Justice notes that federal agencies grabbed some $45.7 billion in “revenue” by forcing Americans’ to forfeit various assets from 2000 to 2019.

About $31 billion was given to the DOJ’s Assets Forfeiture Fund and about $15 billion to the Treasury Forfeiture Fund.

The DOJ and Treasury control that money entirely, and it can be handed out without congressional approval.

The IJ reported the DOJ now has adopted a plan to give private corporations $6.24 billion over a five-year period to “increase the capacity” for more forfeitures.

“The sheer size of these contracts demonstrates how forfeiture has become a big business for federal law enforcement,” explained Dan Alban, director of IJ’s National Initiative to End Forfeiture Abuse.

“And it’s not just DOJ and DHS that have become addicted to forfeiture dollars; there’s now an entire forfeiture-industrial complex dependent on the feds continuing these predatory practices. These are six billion reasons we need civil forfeiture reform now. Congress must act to prevent law enforcement from treating ordinary Americans like ATMs.”

One part of the issue is pending before the Supreme Court right now. It’s a Minnesota case where a woman, behind in her taxes, lost her condominium to the government. The government there then kept the entire proceeds from the sale, tens of thousands of dollars more than was owed in taxes.

The IJ reported in March Congress reintroduced the bipartisan Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration (FAIR) Act, H.R. 1525, which would overhaul federal civil forfeiture laws.

“The bill would remove the profit incentive that drives so many federal forfeitures, end the federal ‘equitable sharing’ program that is used to circumvent state law protections for property rights, and eliminate the unfair administrative forfeiture process,” the IJ said.

The vast majority of federal forfeitures are civil in nature, in that the government never charges anyone with a crime; it just takes the asset and keeps it.

Property owners are forced to hire lawyers and go to court to try to “prove” that their asset is “innocent” and should be returned.

“From 2000 to 2019, 84% of DOJ forfeitures were civil forfeitures, while from 2000 to 2016, 98% of Treasury forfeitures were civil forfeitures,” the IJ reported.

That means they were processed “administratively” and the owners whose property was taken never got their day in court.

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