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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Frank Ranelli is still waiting for the return of thousands of dollars’ worth of computers police took from his business in 2010, even though charges were dismissed years ago.
“Here I was, a man, owned this business, been coming to work every day like a good old guy for 23 years, and I show up at work that morning – I was in here doing my books from the day before – and the police just f***ed my life,” Ranelli told AL.com.
Around 20 Homewood, Ala., police officers came into Ranelli’s computer repair business on June 29, 2010, and took 130 computers, alleging that he knew they were stolen. Ranelli recalled that some of the officers were wearing flak jackets and carrying semiautomatic rifles.
Police had received a tip that Ranelli’s store, FAR Computers, was knowingly buying stolen electronics from local crooks, court documents indicate. The tip was apparently bogus, and charges were eventually dismissed, but Ranelli is still waiting to get the stuff back more than seven years later.
Police used a law known as civil asset seizure to take the computers — many of which belonged to his customers. The law allows them to seize property even if a crime isn’t proven.
More asset forfeiture horror stories like this one are likely after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions reversed an order that had barred seizure of cash and property without warrants or charges in July, The Washington Post reported.
Sessions also set up a special unit within the Justice Department to oversee forfeiture and limit abuses. Skeptics were not convinced by that action.
“It’s nice to see at least some acknowledgment that civil forfeiture is in need of increased oversight, but the changes really don’t go far enough and the core problem still remains,” U.S. Representative Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) complained. “Americans are still going to have their property taken from them, without due process, at record rates.”
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