Stealing From The Citizenry: How Government Goons Use Civil Asset Forfeiture To Rob Us Blind

Authored by John Whitehead via The Rutherford Institute,

“Civil forfeiture laws represent one of the most serious assaults on private property rights in the nation today. Under civil forfeiture, police and prosecutors can seize your car or other property, sell it and use the proceeds to fund agency budgets—all without so much as charging you with a crime. Unlike criminal forfeiture, where property is taken after its owner has been found guilty in a court of law, with civil forfeiture, owners need not be charged with or convicted of a crime to lose homes, cars, cash or other property. Americans are supposed to be innocent until proven guilty, but civil forfeiture turns that principle on its head.  With civil forfeiture, your property is guilty until you prove it innocent.”

– “ Policing for Profit: The Abuse of Civil Asset Forfeiture,” Institute for Justice

In jolly old England, Robin Hood stole from the rich to give to the poor.

In modern-day America, greedy government goons steal from the innocent to give to the corrupt under court- and legislature-sanctioned schemes called civil asset forfeiture. In fact, according to The Washington Post, “law enforcement took more stuff from people than burglars did.”

This is how the American police state continues to get rich: by stealing from the citizenry.

Here’s how the whole ugly business works in a nutshell.

First, government agents (usually the police) use a broad array of tactics to profile, identify, target and arrange to encounter (in a traffic stop, on a train, in an airport, in public, or on private property) those  individuals who might be traveling with a significant amount of cash or possess property of value. Second, these government agents—empowered by the courts and the legislatures—seize private property (cash, jewelry, cars, homes and other valuables) they “suspect” may be connected to criminal activity.

Then—and here’s the kicker—whether or not any crime is actually proven to have taken place, without any charges being levied against the property owner, or any real due process afforded the unlucky victim, the property is forfeited to the government, which often divvies it up with the local police who helped with the initial seizure.

It’s a new, twisted form of guilt by association.

Only it’s not the citizenry being accused of wrongdoing, just their money.

What this adds up to is a paradigm in which Americans no longer have to be guilty to be stripped of their property, rights and liberties. All you have to be is in possession of something the government wants.

Motorists have been particularly vulnerable to this modern-day form of highway robbery.

For instance, police stole $201,000 in cash from Lisa Leonard because the money—which Leonard planned to use to buy a house for her son—was being transported on a public highway also used by drug traffickers. Despite the fact that Leonard was innocent of wrongdoing, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the theft on a technicality.

Police stole $50,000 in cash from Amanee Busbee—which she planned to use to complete the purchase of a restaurant—and threatened to hand her child over to CPS if she resisted. She’s one of the few to win most of her money back in court.

Police stole $22,000 in cash from Jerome Chennault—which he planned to use as the down payment on a home—simply because a drug dog had alerted police to its presence in his car. After challenging the seizure in court, Chennault eventually succeeded in having most of his money returned, although the state refused to compensate him for his legal and travel expenses.

Police stole $8,500 in cash and jewelry from Roderick Daniels—which he planned to use to purchase a new car—and threatened him with jail and money-laundering charges if he didn’t sign a waiver forfeiting his property.

Police stole $6,000 in cash from Jennifer Boatright and Ron Henderson and threatened to turn their young children over to Child Protective Services if they resisted.

Tenaha, Texas, is a particular hotbed of highway forfeiture activity, so much so that police officers keep pre-signed, pre-notarized documents on hand so they can fill in what property they are seizing.

As the Huffington Post explains, these police forfeiture operations have become little more than criminal shakedowns:

Police in some jurisdictions have run forfeiture operations that would be difficult to distinguish from criminal shakedowns. Police can pull motorists over, find some amount of cash or other property of value, claim some vague connection to illegal drug activity and then present the motorists with a choice: If they hand over the property, they can be on their way. Otherwise, they face arrest, seizure of property, a drug charge, a probable night in jail, the hassle of multiple return trips to the state or city where they were pulled over, and the cost of hiring a lawyer to fight both the seizure and the criminal charge. It isn’t hard to see why even an innocent motorist would opt to simply hand over the cash and move on.

Unsurprisingly, these asset forfeiture scams have become so profitable for the government that they have expanded their reach beyond the nation’s highways.

According to USA Today, the U.S. Department of Justice received $2.01 billion in forfeited items in 2013, and since 2008 local and state law enforcement nationwide has raked in some $3 billion in forfeitures through the federal “equitable sharing” program.

So now it’s not just drivers who have to worry about getting the shakedown.

Any American unwise enough to travel with significant amounts of cash is fair game for the government pickpockets.

In fact, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has been colluding with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and local police departments to seize a small fortune in cash from American travelers using the very tools—scanners, spies and surveillance devices—they claimed were necessary to catch terrorists.

Mind you, TSA agents already have a reputation for stealing from travelers, but clearly the government is not concerned about protecting the citizenry from its own wolfish tendencies.

No, the government isn’t looking to catch criminals. It’s just out for your cold, hard cash.

As USA Today reports, although DEA agents have seized more than $203 million in cash in airports alone since 2006, they almost never make arrests or build criminal cases in connection to the seized cash.

For instance, DEA agents at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport stole $11,000 in cash from college student Charles Clarke—his entire life savings, in fact—simply because they claimed his checked suitcase smelled like marijuana. Apart from the sniff test, no drugs or evidence of criminal activity were found.

Christelle Tillerson was waiting to board a flight from Detroit to Chicago when DEA agents stole $25,000 in cash from her suitcase, money she planned to use to buy a truck. Tillerson was never arrested or charged

Joseph Rivers was traveling on an Amtrak train from Michigan to Los Angeles when police stole $16,000 in cash in a bank envelope—money the 22-year-old had saved up to produce a music when he arrived in Hollywood—based solely on their groundless suspicions that the money could have been associated with drugs.

How does the government know which travelers to target?

Through surveillance of Americans’ domestic travel records, by profiling train and airport passengers, and by relying on a “network of travel-industry informants that extends from ticket counters to back offices.” In one instance, the DEA actually promised to give a TSA security screener a reward for identifying luggage with large sums of cash: the more cash found, the bigger the reward.

Starting to notice a pattern?

First, the government claims it needs more powers and more weapons in order to fight crime and terrorism: the power to spy on Americans’ communications and travel; the ability to carry out virtual and actual strip searches of Americans’ luggage, persons and property; the authority to stop and interrogate travelers for any reason in the name of national security.

Then, when government agents have been given enough powers and weapons to transform them into mini-tyrants, they’re unleashed on an unsuspecting citizenry with few resources to be able to defend themselves or protect their property.

So much for those long-cherished ideals about the assumption of innocence and due process.

For example, the federal government attempted to confiscate Russell Caswell’s family-owned Tewksbury, Massachusetts, motel, insisting that because a small percentage of the motel’s guests had been arrested for drug crimes – 15 out of 200,000 visitors in a 14-year span – the motel was a dangerous property. As Reason reports:

This cruel surprise was engineered by Vincent Kelley, a forfeiture specialist at the Drug Enforcement Administration who read about the Motel Caswell in a news report and found that the property, which the Caswells own free and clear, had an assessed value of $1.3 million. So Kelley approached the Tewksbury Police Department with an “equitable sharing” deal: The feds would seize the property and sell it, and the cops would get up to 80 percent of the proceeds.

Thankfully, with the help of a federal judge, Caswell managed to keep his motel out of the government’s clutches, but others are not so fortunate.

Gerald and Royetta Ostipow had their Michigan farm and property seized, including a classic muscle car, and then sold by the local sheriff’s office. As USA Today reports:

The Ostipows were required to provide a $150,000 cash bond before they could begin the legal proceedings to contest the forfeiture and get their property back. But they couldn’t afford to. An appeals court later overturned the Ostipow’s hefty bond requirement… But the ruling didn’t stop the nightmare for the couple who were never charged with a crime. They still had to win a court case seeking the return of hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of property taken from the Ostipow’s rural Michigan home, including a cherished classic car. Eventually, an appeals court found that the property was wrongly forfeited. But it was too later to recover the car. With the odometer mysteriously bearing an additional 56,000 miles, police had already sold the car and spent the proceeds.

Despite the fact that 80 percent of these asset forfeiture cases result in no charge against the property owner, challenging these “takings” in court can cost the owner more than the value of the confiscated property itself. As a result, most property owners either give up the fight or chalk the confiscation up to government corruption, leaving the police and other government officials to reap the benefits.

Under a federal equitable sharing program, police turn asset forfeiture cases over to federal agents who process seizures and then return 80% of the proceeds to the police. Michigan police actually get to keep up to 100% of forfeited property.

This is what has become known as “policing for profit.”

According to USA Today, “Anecdotal evidence suggests that allowing departments to keep forfeiture proceeds may tempt them to use the funds unwisely. For example, consider a 2015 scandal in Romulus, Michigan, where police officers used funds forfeited from illicit drug and prostitution stings to pay for …  illicit drugs and prostitutes.”

Police agencies have also used their ill-gotten gains “to buy guns, armored cars and electronic surveillance gear,” reports The Washington Post. “They have also spent money on luxury vehicles, travel and a clown named Sparkles.”

So what’s to be done?

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, we are now ruled by a government so consumed with squeezing every last penny out of the population as to be completely unconcerned if essential freedoms are trampled in the process.

Our freedoms aren’t just being trampled, however.

They’re being eviscerated.

At every turn, “we the people” are getting swindled, cheated, conned, robbed, raided, pickpocketed, mugged, deceived, defrauded, double-crossed and fleeced by governmental and corporate shareholders of the American police state out to make a profit at taxpayer expense.

President Trump has made it clear his loyalties lie with the police, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has previously declared his love for civil asset forfeiture, the Supreme Court keeps marching in lockstep with the police state, and the police unions don’t want their gravy train to go away, so there’s not much hope for federal reform anytime soon.

As always, change will have to begin locally and move upwards.

Some state legislatures (Florida, Michigan, Nebraska, New Mexico, and Ohio) are beginning to push back against these clearly unconstitutional asset forfeiture schemes. As the National Review reports, “New Mexico now requires a criminal conviction before law enforcement can seize property, while police in Florida must prove “beyond reasonable doubt” that property is linked to a crime before it’s seized.”

More than legislative change, however, what we need is a change of mindset on the part of the citizenry. We need to stop acting like victims and start acting like citizens with rights.

Remember, long before Americans charted their revolutionary course in pursuit of happiness, it was “life, liberty, and property” which constituted the golden triad of essential rights that the government was charged with respecting and protecting.

To the colonists, smarting from mistreatment at the hands of the British crown, protecting their property from governmental abuse was just as critical as preserving their lives and liberties. As the colonists understood, if the government can arbitrarily take away your property, you have no true rights: you’re nothing more than a serf or a slave.

The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was born of this need to safeguard against any attempt by the government to unlawfully deprive a citizen of the right to life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.

Little could our ancestral forebears have imagined that it would take less than three centuries of so-called “independence” to once again render us brow-beaten subjects in bondage to an overlord bent on depriving us of our most inalienable and fundamental rights.

Yet if the government can arbitrarily freeze, seize or lay claim to your property (money, land or possessions) under government asset forfeiture schemes, you have no true rights.

Enough is enough.

Half Of Canadians Want Illegal Immigrants Deported

Canada, and more specifically Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, has been applauded in recent months for its decision to lift visa requirements for Mexican ‘tourists’ as of December 1st.  Rather than a visa, under Trudeau’s administration, border hoppers are now only required to have a so-called Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) which can be purchased online for CAD $7.

But, while enlightened politicians and progressive media commentators of the world endlessly praise open borders, Canada’s ‘average joes’, much like in the U.S., are apparently overwhelmingly in favor of deporting the recent influx of illegal immigrants looking to escape the ‘xenophobic’, ‘racist’ policies of Trump’s administration in the U.S.  According to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released earlier today, nearly half of Canadians want to deport people who are illegally crossing into Canada from the United States, and a similar number disapprove of how Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is handling the influx.

Of the 1,001 Canadian voters polled by Reuters, 48% said that illegal border hoppers should be deported back to the U.S. while a similar margin, 46%, said they disagree with how Trudeau is handling the recent immigration crisis.

Canada Immigrants

 

Of course, just like in America, Canadians are far less concerned about ‘legal’ immigration and instead disapprove of people who are blatantly ignoring the sanctity of international borders to immigrate to their country ‘illegally’.  Nonetheless, we presume the progressives of our northern neighbor still look down upon the “xenophobic” views of the masses with the same level of indignation afforded the silent “racist” majority here in the U.S.

The increasing flow of hundreds of asylum-seekers of African and Middle Eastern origin from the United States in recent months has become a contentious issue in Canada.

 

There has been broad bipartisan support for high levels of legal immigration for decades in Canada. But Trudeau has come under pressure over the flow of the illegal migrants. He is questioned about it every time he appears in parliament, from opponents on the left, who want more asylum-seekers to be allowed in, and critics on the right, who say the migrants pose a potential security risk.

 

Canadians appeared to be just as concerned about illegal immigration as their American neighbors, according to the poll, which was conducted between March 8-9. Some 48 percent of Canadians said they supported “increasing the deportation of people living in Canada illegally.”

 

When asked specifically about the recent border crossings from the United States, the same number – 48 percent – said Canada should “send these migrants back to the U.S.” Another 36 percent said Canada should “accept these migrants” and let them seek refugee status.

Meanwhile, just over 40% of Canadians say the recent wave if illegal immigrants make their country less safe.
Canada Immigrants

 

This sudden ‘racism’ epidemic, the first signs of which surfaced in the Midwest last November and resulted in the election of Donald Trump, seems to be spreading rapidly to the north and was undoubtedly planted by none other than Vladimir Putin himself…we demand that Chuck Schumer hold a hearing on this critical issue immediately. 

Americans Refuge In “Matrix Of Rackets” Is Failing

Authored by Howard Kunstler via Kunstler.com,

You might not know it, given all the ambient noise of the moment, but beyond the torments of news and propaganda there is still something called the nation. It’s more than just a political compact. Until not long ago it was also a culture, an agreed-upon set of values, practices, and customs that amounted to an identity: I’m an American. If you canvassed the crowd in Yankee Stadium one summer afternoon in 1947, I imagine each person would answer that way rather than saying I’m a wounded war veteran, I’m a WASP, I’m an oppressed housewife, I’m a negro, I’m Italian, I’m a Jew, I’m a union member, I’m a communist, I’m queer, I’m a rape victim….

These days, the hardships of history are shattering the nation and our response politically has been to take refuge in a matrix of rackets. Most of these rackets are economic, because it’s the essence of racketeering to extract the greatest benefit possible from the object of your racket at the least cost to the racketeer. In plain English, it’s an organized way of getting something for nothing. The identity politics of our time is another form of racketeering — extracting current maximum benefits on claims of mistreatment, often bygone, specious, or only imagined.

And so one of the truly existential questions of the moment is whether we’ll continue to be a nation, even geographically, and a lot of sentient observers aren’t too sure. Apparently we’re not too sure we even want to be. This is why the campaign slogan of Hillary Clinton, “Stronger Together,” rang so false when the Democratic Party worked so diligently in 2016 to construct separate identity fortifications and then declared culture war on the dwindling majority outside the ramparts. And you’re surprised that Donald Trump won the election?

Trump won by making promises that he’ll never be able to keep under the current circumstances. The main promise was to restore the standard of living enjoyed in bygone decades by former industrial workers and clerks. His promise was based on a misunderstanding of history: the notion that the industrial organization of daily life was a permanent part of the human condition. You could detect by the early 21st century that this was not so anymore. That was exactly why we tried to replace it with an economy of rackets. When there’s nothing left, a lot of people are going to try to get something for nothing, because there’s nothing else to do.

Hence, the financialization of the economy. In the 1950s, finance made up about five percent of the economy. It’s mission then was pretty simple and straightforward: to manage the accumulated wealth of the nation (capital) and then allocate it to those who proposed to generate greater wealth via new productive activities, mostly industrial, ad infinitum. It turned out that ad infinitum doesn’t work in a world of finite resources — but the ride had been so intoxicating that we couldn’t bring ourselves to believe it, and still can’t.

With industry expiring, or moving elsewhere (also temporarily), we inflated finance to nearly 40 percent of the economy. The new financialization was, in effect, setting a matrix of rackets in motion. What had worked as capital management before was allowed to mutate into various forms of swindling and fraud — such as the bundling of dishonestly acquired mortgages into giant bonds and then selling them to pension funds desperate for “yield,” or the orgy of merger and acquisition in health care that turned hospitals into cash registers, or the revenue streams on derivative “plays” that amounted to bets with no possibility of ever being paid off, or the three-card-monte games of interest rate arbitrage played by central banks and their “primary dealer” concubines.

Some of what I’ve listed above may be incomprehensible to the blog reader, and that is because these rackets were crafted to be opaque and recondite. The rackets continue without regulation or prosecution because there is an unstated appreciation in government, and in the corporate board rooms, that it’s all we’ve got left. What remains of the accustomed standard of living in America is supported by wishing and fakery and all that is now coming to a climax as we steam full speed ahead into Murphy’s law: if something can go wrong, it will.

When all of America comes to realize that President Trump doesn’t know what he’s doing, it will make last November’s national nervous breakdown look like a momentary case of the vapors. What can go wrong awaits in markets, banks, currencies, and the immense dark pools of counterparty obligations that amount to black holes where notions of value are sucked out of the universe. There is so much that can go wrong. And then it will. And then maybe that will prompt us back to consider  being a nation again.

US “Too Big To Fail” Banks Top $1 Trillion – What Happens Next?

For the first time ever, the market cap of America's "Big Four" banks topped $1 trillion having surged 30% since Donald Trump was elected president. While to some this is cause for celebration, we note that the last time a nation's "big four" banks topped $1 trillion in market cap did not end well…

As Bloomberg notes, the four biggest U.S. banks were worth the most on record versus China's "Big Four" this month, as JPMorgan, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and Citigroup were worth over $250 billion more than Industrial & Commercial Bank, China Construction Bank, Bank of China, and Agricultural Bank of China combined.

The four Chinese banks, the world's most profitable, were worth about the same as the U.S. foursome as recently as June.

However, as the chart above shows, while the American quartet's combined market value closed above $1 trillion for the first time last month, China achieved that goals in June 2015… and it did not end well.

Rex Tillerson To Skip NATO Meeting, Will Visit Russia Instead

If after a day full of James Comey’s dramatic testimony in Congress, which according to MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough was “the worst day of Donald Trump’s presidency” after Comey stated on the record that he is not aware of any wiretapping of Trump Tower and that the FBI has been probing Russia for ties with the Trump campaign since July, Trump wanted to send the world a signal that his priorities remain focused on Russia, and he is not backing down from demanding NATO pay its “fair share”, his Secretary of State has done just that after Reuters reported that Rex Tillerson plans to skip the April 5-6 meeting of NATO foreign ministers to be present during the first US visit by China’s president, and will one week later travel to Russia, “a step allies may see as putting Moscow’s concerns ahead of theirs“, or in other words – an intentional snub.

As Reuters adds, Tillerson intends to miss what would be his first meeting in Brussels with the 28 NATO members to attend President Donald Trump’s expected April 6-7 talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. While it goes without saying, two former US officials told Reuters that “the decisions to skip the NATO meeting and to visit Moscow risked feeding a perception that Trump may be putting U.S. dealings with big powers before those of smaller nations that depend on Washington for their security.”

It is also likely to prompt further speculation of NATO-alternative alliances. State Department spokesman Mark Toner had no immediate comment on whether Tillerson would skip the NATO meeting or visit Russia. Two U.S. officials said Tillerson planned to visit Moscow on April 12.

“It feeds this narrative that somehow the Trump administration is playing footsy with Russia,” said one former U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity. “You don’t want to do your early business with the world’s great autocrats. You want to start with the great democracies, and NATO is the security instrument of the transatlantic group of great democracies,” he added. NATO is also the alliance which installs anti-missile system, drastically shifting the nuclear balance of power in the region, and keeps piling up troops on the border with Russia, and is then shocked when a furious Russia lashes out.

As for Tillerson’s visit to Russia, any visit to Moscow by a senior Trump administration official will be carefully scrutinized after the director of the FBI on Monday publicly confirmed his agency was investigating any collusion between the Russian government and Trump’s 2016 presidential election campaign.

Perhaps this is Trump’s way of demonstrating how little he cares about the public’s reaction to Comey’s revelations. Furthermore, Trump has already antagonized and worried NATO allies by referring to the Western security alliance as “obsolete” and by pressing other members to meet their commitments to spend at least 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense.

Quoted by Reuters, a former NATO diplomat said he hoped there might be a way for Tillerson to attend both meetings, for example by changing the date of the NATO talks.

The former diplomat, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said it was vital to present a united front toward Moscow. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was created in 1949 to serve as a bulwark against the Soviet Union.

 

“Given the challenge that Russia poses, not just to the United States but to Europe, it’s critical to engage on the basis of a united front if at all possible,” the diplomat said.

The front may be united, but if Tillerson shows up in the Kremlin on April 12 without first making an appearance in Brussels one week prior, it will be a front of the US and Russia (and thus China) against Europe, hardly the outcome Angela Merkel was hoping for when she spoke to Trump just this past Friday.