Thursday, December 2, 2010

In Asset Forfeiture Cases Like the One at Camp Zoe, Feds Help Local Police Keep Money From Missouri Schools

Posted By on Thu, Dec 2, 2010 at 8:00 AM

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Total $ Seized -- $ Transferred to Federal Agency -- $ to MO School Fund*
1996 - $1.9 million, $453,000 (23 percent),  $520,000 (27 percent) 

1997 $1.8 million, $600,000 (33 percent),    $492,000 (27 percent)

1998 $3.1 Million, $786, 000(25 percent),     $446,000 (14 percent)

1999 (No Audit)

2000 4.1 million, 1.4 million (34 percent),     $115,000 (2 percent)

2001 3.6 million, 498,000 (14 percent),        $225,000 (6 percent)

2002 5.1 million, 1.3 million (27 percent),     $232,000 (4 percent)

2003 3.1 million, 310,000 (10 percent),        $210,000 (7 percent)

2004 2.9 million, 669,000 (23 percent),        $45,000 (2 percent)

2005 4 million, 1.2 million (32 percent),        $71,000 (2 percent)

2006 5.2 million, 2.8 million (54 percent),     $74,000 (2 percent)

2007 4.5 million, 2 million (45 percent),        $74,000 (2 percent)

2008 6.8 million, 5.1 million (75 percent),     $56,000 (1 percent)

2009 5.6 million, 2.7 million (49 percent),     $30,000 (1 percent)

*Not listed are seizures that were either returned to the defendant, involved in a pending case or classified as "disposition not reported."
The vast majority of the forfeiture money came from the state's most populous counties -- St. Louis City, St. Louis County, St. Charles County and Jackson County -- from regional drug task forces and from the Missouri State Highway Patrol. 

Callahan argues that the numbers don't necessarily reflect abuse of the system. The sort of drug investigations that lead to large asset forfeiture seizures are often conducted with help of the DEA and prosecuted in federal court, where strict sentencing guidelines apply, he says. Callahan also suspects that the imbalances may be the result of a law approved by the Missouri legislature in 2001 that changed the way prosecutors report asset forfeiture seizures to the state auditor.
 
"The bottom line is, I don't have an explanation," Callahan says. "But I think it could be a matter of reporting. That could be a possibility. You'd have to look at three counties that contributed most and the seizing agency to see if there's a change in reporting. Or the numbers reflect that there's more money in drugs and more attention being paid to it [by law enforcement.]"

A DEA spokesman declined to comment on the agency's asset forfeiture policy and the director of the Missouri Office of Prosecution Services did not return a message from Daily RFT.

In addition to restricting how asset forfeiture money is spent, the 1994 state law also requires that forfeiture cases be accompanied by a felony charge against the property owner. Federal law, by contrast, allows police to seize property without charging anyone with a crime -- exactly what they're attempting to do at Camp Zoe.

"It raises a lot of interesting issues about how can a state constitution provide additional protection for citizen that the federal government has to respect," says Dave Roland, an attorney for the non-profit legal advocacy group Freedom Center of Missouri. "Missourians tried to protect themselves against this situation, but because the federal government gets to play by its own rules those protections are not coming to fruition."

In the Camp Zoe case, the attorney for property owner Jimmy Tebeau, Dan Viets, says prosecutors have only made "bare conclusory allegations" that attempt to connect his client with drug activity.

Callahan, however, says it is "very rare" for the U.S. Attorney to prosecute an asset forfeiture case without filing criminal charges against the property owner.

Asked if Tebeau will eventually be charged with a crime, Callahan replies, "I couldn't comment on a specific pending case, but I'd say if you look at the history...those actions aren't prosecuted without criminal charges."

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