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WASHINGTON — One single branch of the U.S. government, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), has collected more than $4 billion through civil forfeiture since 2007.
Disturbingly, most of that money — $3.2 billion — was seized in cash without criminal charges or convictions, a report from the Inspector General at the U.S. Department of Justice found this week. The $3.2 billion figure does not include the value of cars, homes and other items the DEA took.
The report – dubbed “The Review of the Department’s Oversight of Cash Seizure and Forfeiture” – found that reasons for the seizures included “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.”
Darpana Sheth, senior attorney at the Institute for Justice, told The Washington Post that the report “raises serious concerns that maybe the real purpose here is not to fight crime, but to seize and forfeit property.”
Civil forfeiture is the controversial method whereby law enforcement officials can seize property they believe to be tied to drug trafficking, without going to trial or even pressing charges. (Listen to Off The Grid Radio’s in-depth report on it here.)
Sheth said a criminal conviction should be required to seize money.
“Nobody in America should lose their property without being convicted of a crime,” Sheth said. “If our goal is to curb crime, we should simply abolish civil forfeiture.”
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