Feds Fail At Stealing Private Property In Civil Forfeiture Case

Motel Caswell in Massachusetts is a family owned business, and has been in business since the 50’s. Russ and Patricia Caswell’s $1 million motel property came under fire a couple months ago when the federal government decided they wanted to seize it under civil forfeiture laws.

The Caswells were an easy target for easy money because they are a small “Mom & Pop” business without the funds necessary to fight a civil forfeiture case against the feds. Also, their property has no mortgage, is completely owned by the Caswells, and if seized by the feds, all the proceeds would go to them and the local police department, a practice they call “equitable sharing.”

Since 1985 when the Department of Justice’s Asset Forfeiture Fund was created, they’ve accumulated $1.6 billion by seizing people’s private property. But they always want more. They came after the Caswells not because they were guilty of anything, but because for the past 20 years, a handful of people had been arrested there at the Motel Caswell on drug charges.

So, since crimes had been committed on that property, they thought they could just take it. At least that was their excuse. Ordinarily, I’m sure they would have succeeded, but the Institute for Justice came to the Caswell’s aid and fought for them.

The case has now been dismissed as of Thursday:

 “In one of the most contentious civil forfeiture fights in the nation, Magistrate Judge Judith G. Dein of the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts concluded, based on a week-long bench trial in November 2012, that the motel was not subject to forfeiture under federal law and that its owners were wholly innocent of any wrongdoing.”

 The Caswells are both up in years and were hoping to retire soon, and had the Institute for Justice not helped them, they would have lost nearly everything.

According to the Institute for Justice, civil forfeiture cases are getting worse. Equitable sharing payments doubled from 2000 to 2008:

 “Between 2000 and 2008, equitable sharing payments from the U.S. Department of Justice to state and local law enforcement doubled from about $200 million to $400 million. And data from two states, Massachusetts and California, indicate that these figures underestimate the true extent of equitable sharing nationwide.”

 There don’t seem to be any real private property rights anymore. The feds don’t tax, borrow or create enough money for themselves anymore, so they have to come up with other ways of stealing from law-abiding citizens. Civil forfeiture laws create the perfect avenue for governments to strip people of their private property rights. In the Caswell’s case, thankfully the feds lost.