The taxman and the bandit
Posted 02 April 2003 - 02:26 AM
Posted 17 May 2005 - 05:01 PM
By Dahleen Glanton
HOGANSVILLE, Ga. -- For years, this small town nestled in the pine forests off Interstate 85 has struggled to keep its police department financially afloat. But the town is riding high these days on a $2.4 million windfall, thanks to drug dealers who happened to be passing through.
A police officer, aided by a drug-sniffing German shepherd named Bella, parks his cruiser on the side of the expressway three or four days a week, looking for any vehicle that seems suspicious ? a broken taillight, an expired license plate or simply a car that changes lanes excessively.
That is all it takes to pull over someone who might be a drug courier. If the officer is lucky, he confiscates not only drugs but bundles of money.
With the help of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), small towns across the country are filling their coffers with drug money as a result of federal asset-forfeiture laws that allow authorities to seize drug dealers' property, including cars, cash and houses used to facilitate crime.
Local police are allowed to keep 80 percent of the proceeds, and 20 percent goes to the DEA.
Small towns suffering from dwindling populations and shrinking tax bases have confiscated millions of dollars by forming highway-interdiction units.
Once barely able to buy police cars, towns along major thoroughfares used to transport drugs and cash are building new police stations and equipping officers with bulletproof vests as they patrol streets in sport-utility vehicles.
The DEA's Operation Pipeline program, a nationwide highway-interdiction effort that focuses on private vehicles used to transport drugs, has long been active in states such as New Mexico, New Jersey, Illinois, Florida and Texas, where major arteries for drug trafficking are located.
But as Atlanta has grown as a primary drug-distribution center, towns in Georgia and other Southern states are taking advantage of their prime locations by patrolling interstate highways.
Forfeiture laws have been around since colonial times, but Congress in 1970 enacted the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), the first federal criminal-forfeiture statute that allows for the seizure of property, primarily money, obtained through racketeering.
Law-enforcement officials say forfeiture laws are powerful tools in the war against drugs. But opponents argue that they are tantamount to theft and open the door to racial profiling.
No arrest is necessary for forfeitures of more than $5,000, as long as the money can be linked to drug activity, said Agent Bill Grant, a DEA spokesman in Washington.
"Normally, we try to help local law enforcement wherever we can," Grant said. "Mostly, we try to help them find a drug link to any money they discover."
However, it is not necessary to work with the DEA. If a police department makes a bust and processes the case locally, it can keep all of the proceeds, officials said. Some cities have been embroiled in bitter fighting over control of the money. Others have been forced to submit to monitoring by the Justice Department.
While seized money cannot be used to hire personnel, it can be used for police training, equipment, vehicles and, in the case of Hogansville, a new police station, a walking trail and a hefty donation to a youth group.
"This has really changed things for us. We have the best equipment and the best-trained officers in this part of the state," City Manager Randy Jordan said. "What we do here is not a secret. People know if you come to Hogansville and commit a crime, you are going to jail."
In Refugio County, Texas, officials seized enough money to build a police station and a jail. In Sulphur, La., near Lake Charles, police seized more than $6 million in four years by patrolling a five-mile stretch of Interstate 10 five days a week.
Police in Hogansville, a one-stoplight town of about 2,600 people, recently moved from a four-room house they once shared with the fire department to a 12,650-square-foot building that cost $400,000.
Five years ago, the department had only three police cars, and two of the vehicles were broken down. It now has 13 shiny new cars equipped with state-of-the-art technology, including laptop computers and high-tech radios.
The city is not ashamed to let people know the source of its newfound wealth. Rear bumpers of the police cruisers advertise that the cars were purchased with seized money.
In two years since the program began, the department has supplemented its $630,000 annual budget with $2.2 million in cash and $200,000 worth of vehicles, including a Range Rover, pickups and cars that were auctioned.
"We read the newspapers and we saw what other towns were doing, so we said, 'Why can't we?' Now, we've got agencies calling us from all over asking us how to do it," Police Chief Guy Spradlin said.
The biggest of the 11 busts in Hogansville occurred in October, when Officer John Starnes saw a pickup with Texas license plates pull off Interstate 85 and into a gas station about 1:30 a.m. He stopped the truck, which had a broken taillight, and officers found $654,000 stuffed into a hidden compartment in the tailgate.
Starnes, an Army National Guardsman, made the bust on his last day on the job before heading to Iraq. No drugs were found, but police took the money and truck, gave the men $500 and dropped them off at the bus station.
Police acknowledge that, more often than not, people who are stopped are so eager to get out of town that it is unlikely they will return to go to court, not even to try to have their cars and money returned.
"When I'm out there, I'm looking for traffic violations and other things," said Officer Michael Red, who replaced Starnes in Hogansville. "If you are properly trained, you are looking for key indicators, and when the drivers get close to you, you can see it. It sticks out like a sore thumb."
Posted 21 August 2006 - 02:13 AM
Eighth Circuit Appeals Court ruling says police may seize cash from motorists even in the absence of any evidence that a crime has been committed.
US Court of Appeals, Eighth CircuitA federal appeals court ruled yesterday that if a motorist is carrying large sums of money, it is automatically subject to confiscation. In the case entitled, "United States of America v. $124,700 in U.S. Currency," the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit took that amount of cash away from Emiliano Gomez Gonzolez, a man with a "lack of significant criminal history" neither accused nor convicted of any crime.
On May 28, 2003, a Nebraska state trooper signaled Gonzolez to pull over his rented Ford Taurus on Interstate 80. The trooper intended to issue a speeding ticket, but noticed the Gonzolez's name was not on the rental contract. The trooper then proceeded to question Gonzolez -- who did not speak English well -- and search the car. The trooper found a cooler containing $124,700 in cash, which he confiscated. A trained drug sniffing dog barked at the rental car and the cash. For the police, this was all the evidence needed to establish a drug crime that allows the force to keep the seized money.
Associates of Gonzolez testified in court that they had pooled their life savings to purchase a refrigerated truck to start a produce business. Gonzolez flew on a one-way ticket to Chicago to buy a truck, but it had sold by the time he had arrived. Without a credit card of his own, he had a third-party rent one for him. Gonzolez hid the money in a cooler to keep it from being noticed and stolen. He was scared when the troopers began questioning him about it. There was no evidence disputing Gonzolez's story.
Yesterday the Eighth Circuit summarily dismissed Gonzolez's story. It overturned a lower court ruling that had found no evidence of drug activity, stating, "We respectfully disagree and reach a different conclusion... Possession of a large sum of cash is 'strong evidence' of a connection to drug activity."
Judge Donald Lay found the majority's reasoning faulty and issued a strong dissent.
"Notwithstanding the fact that claimants seemingly suspicious activities were reasoned away with plausible, and thus presumptively trustworthy, explanations which the government failed to contradict or rebut, I note that no drugs, drug paraphernalia, or drug records were recovered in connection with the seized money," Judge Lay wrote. "There is no evidence claimants were ever convicted of any drug-related crime, nor is there any indication the manner in which the currency was bundled was indicative of
drug use or distribution."
"Finally, the mere fact that the canine alerted officers to the presence of drug residue in a rental car, no doubt driven by dozens, perhaps scores, of patrons during the course of a given year, coupled with the fact that the alert came from the same location where the currency was discovered, does little to connect the money to a controlled substance offense," Judge Lay Concluded.
Posted 21 August 2006 - 05:43 AM
they gave him a receipt so that if he were to encounter another group of bandits along the way, he wouldnt be harmed for not having anything to steal, as he had a receipt showing he'd already been relieved of all his possessions.
If a guy gets pinched at Hogansville & is relieved of all his drugs and cash,
then he passes through Refugio County,
does he have a receipt to produce to show he's already just been fucked over?
0 user(s) are reading this topic
0 members, 0 guests, 0 anonymous users