Let’s not fool ourselves. Civil asset forfeiture is nothing more or less than the unconstitutional seizure of property by law enforcement agencies as a way of generating an off-the-books income stream to provide funding at a higher level than that approved by the legislative body that is sets their budget. Stories of abuse abound and it will be to Jeff Sessions’s everlasting shame and disgrace that he is supporting this fascistic practice.
Because the funds are not appropriated there has been little oversight over how they are spent. Reason documents some of the more interesting uses:
For example, a 2016 inspector general audit found that an Illinois police department spent more than $20,000 in equitable sharing funds on accessories for two lightly used motorcycles, including after-market exhaust pipes, decorative chrome, and heated handgrips.
The FBI is investigating a former Arizona sheriff who used asset forfeiture funds to pay for a “public safety newsletter” sent to voters while he was running for Congress, touting his public safety record.
Reason reported on a case in Mississippi where Hinds County sheriff’s deputies seized all of the furniture in a woman’s living room because her boyfriend was a suspected drug dealer. The county district attorney eventually struck a deal with the woman to return all of the furniture, except for a white couch, which was forfeited by the county and is presumably still occupying a county office somewhere.
Then there was the $90,000 Dodge Viper that a Georgia sheriff purchased with forfeiture funds for the department’s DARE program.
But, for innovative uses of civil asset forfeiture funds, Tennessee has to, so to speak, take the cake.
DOJ Inspector General says the Tenn. Dep't of Safety and Homeland Security spent $110,000 of asset-forfeiture money on catering. pic.twitter.com/RwgHmd9va5
— Brad Heath (@bradheath) September 7, 2017
The Justice Department IG report on Tennessee’s use of civil asset forfeiture money says they were using money they had
stolen seized to buy stuff they were legally forbidden to purchase.
As a result of our testing, we determined that the Department of Safety expended $112,614 in equitable shared funds for unallowable catering, luncheon, banquet ticket, and retail food expenditures. The Department also had no procedures for tracking and reconciling equitable sharing requests to receipts and had no separately designated account for expenditures.
In addition to the unauthorized purchase of food, Tennessee could not tell the Justice IG what they did with most of the civil asset forfeiture money. I suspect there is a Krispy Kreme outlet somewhere swimming in cash.