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Forfeiture Strikes Businesses
May 22, 2012
If you can blame property for crimes, you can seize the property of innocent people. That's called "forfeiture," and government uses it against businesses as well as individuals.
Take, for example, Russ Casswell's hotel -- the government would like to. In United States of America v. 434 Main Street, Tewksbury, Massachusetts, the federal Department of Justice argues that because, despite the owners' efforts to assist law enforcement, some hotel customers have used their rooms to sell drugs, the entirely innocent owners must turn over their business to be sold for the benefit of the feds and the local police. George Will writes that a federal agent actually goes looking through local records for valuable property to target for seizure.
Other drug-war forfeiture cases aren't tied to business, but can be even more shocking, such as the case of the Wisconsin police who routinely seized bail money.
And forfeiture isn't limited to the drug war; the government uses it against terrorism as well. Bassam Hanna isn't accused of ties to Hezbollah, nor did his car dealership funnel money to the terrorist organization, his lawyer says. But Cary Auto Sales was one of 30 dealerships against which the federal government filed forfeiture actions in December, claiming they received money in exchange for cars (they're car dealerships!) and these transactions were -- for the buyers -- part of a money-laundering scheme.