The DEA, for many, is high up on the list of the government’s most corrupt, mismanaged and ill-equipped organizations. And it sure knows how to squeeze money out of innocent victims.
According to a report issued Wednesday by the Justice Department’s Inspector General, the DEA has seized more than $4 billion in cash from people suspected of involvement in the drug trade since 2007.
The scope of asset forfeiture is outrageous: Since 2007, the Department of Justice’s Asset Forfeiture Fund skyrocketed to $28 billion.
In 2014 alone, authorities seized $5 billion in cash and property from individuals—more than the amount of all documented losses to burglary that year.
The kicker is that 81 percent of the DEA’s seizures—totaling $3.2 billion—were conducted “administratively,” meaning that no civil or criminal charges were brought against the owners of the cash and no judicial review of the seizures ever occurred.
Poof, the money is gone, and there’s no record of it or recourse to get it back.
The DEA simply takes the cash.
Bear in mind that if these so-called “administrative seizures” were reported by the DEA, think of the billions of dollars that are not reported.
Also, this total does not include the dollar value of other seized assets, like cars, homes, electronics, clothing, etc.
Sadly, these seizures are all legal under the controversial practice of civil asset forfeiture, which allows authorities to take cash, contraband and property from people suspected of crime—whether there is a criminal conviction or not.
And agencies, like the DEA, are allowed to keep all seized cash and property for themselves unless individuals manage to successfully challenge the forfeiture in court, which is a lengthy and complicated process.
If this obviously corrupt asset rip-off occurred to someone, say in Mexico, it would categorically be called bribery.
But law enforcement groups here in the U.S. contend that this practice is a valuable tool for fighting criminal organizations. Although no one buys that, especially in the case of the administrative asset seizures.
Clearly the money goes into padding the budget of whatever department took it, or into the back pockets of their crisp DEA uniforms.
The Inspector General’s report indeed “raises serious concerns that maybe the real purpose here is not to fight crime, but to seize and forfeit property,” Darpana Sheth, a senior attorney of the Institute for Justice, a civil liberties law firm that has fought for forfeiture reform, told the Washington Post.
The Inspector General found that the Department of Justice “does not collect or evaluate the data necessary to know whether its seizures and forfeitures are effective, or the extent to which seizures present potential risks to civil liberties.”
Fewer than half of the seizures reviewed in the report were related to a new or ongoing criminal investigation, or led to an arrest or prosecution, the Inspector General found.
“When seizure and administrative forfeitures do not ultimately advance an investigation or prosecution,” the report concludes, “law enforcement creates the appearance, and risks the reality, that it is more interested in seizing and forfeiting cash than advancing an investigation or prosecution.”
In most of the seizures examined by the Inspector General, DEA officers took money or goods off people who were “traveling to or from a known source city for drug trafficking, purchasing a ticket within 24 hours of travel, purchasing a ticket for a long flight with an immediate return, purchasing a one-way ticket, and traveling without checked luggage.”
In other words, anyone could get caught up in a DEA search and seizure. And what in the world do they mean about a “known source city for drug trafficking”?
“Nobody in America should lose their property without being convicted of a crime,” Sheth told the Washington Post.
“If our goal is to curb crime, we should simply abolish civil forfeiture” and only forfeit property after a criminal conviction is obtained, she added.