Civil Forfeiture Gone Wild: City of Brotherly Love Rapes Residents

You would think after all the posts I have written and read for this blog this column on civil forfeiture from Forbes.com wouldn’t be that surprising to me. But it is enraging.

civil forfeiture

We are governed by locusts, leeches, parasites that don’t know how to stop before they kill the host. We are dominated by vampires, enemies of humanity, wolves posing as watchdogs (or watchdogs gone feral. What is the difference?). These people seem to think they have “ascended” to a higher level—higher on the food chain than those of us who are now on their menu.

And note: little to none of this is Federal; it is local slavery.

Yes, I’m ranting. And even exaggerating slightly. But what other response is appropriate?

Back in March, Chris’s son was caught selling $40 worth of drugs outside of the home. With no previous arrests or a prior record, a court ordered him to attend rehab. But the very day Sourovelis was driving his son to begin treatment, he got a frantic call from his wife. Without any prior notice, police evicted the Sourovelises and seized the house, using a little-known law known as “civil forfeiture.”

Law enforcement barred the family from living in their own home for over a week. The family could only return home if they banned their son from visiting and relinquished some of their constitutional rights. Adding to the cruel irony, their son has already completed rehab, ending his punishment by the city. “If this can happen to me and my family, it can happen to anybody,” Sourovelis said.

So that’s civilization in Philadelphia. If your child has committed a minor crime you can be deprived of your home or other major property. The city shakes down residents, without trial and without even an accusation, for about six million dollars a year.

Under civil forfeiture, property owners do not have to be convicted of a crime, or even charged with one, to permanently lose their property. Instead, the government can forfeit a property if it’s found to “facilitate” a crime, no matter how tenuous the connection. So rather than sue the owner, in civil forfeiture proceedings, the government sues the property itself, leading to surreal case names like Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. The Real Property and Improvements Known as 2544 N. Colorado St.

In other words, thanks to civil forfeiture, the government punishes innocent people for the crimes other people might have committed. Sadly, the Sourovelis family is not alone. Doila Welch faces civil forfeiture of her home, which has been in her family for 17 years, because her estranged husband, unbeknownst to her, was dealing small amounts of marijuana. Norys Hernandez and her sister co-own a rowhouse, but her sister is still barred from living there because Hernandez’s nephew was arrested for selling drugs outside her rowhouse. Welch and Hernandez have not been charged with any crime and both have joined Sourovelis as named plaintiffs in IJ’s class action against the Philadelphia forfeiture machine.

These people are thieves. They are an organized crime syndicate. And they exist all over the United States. Philadelphia only stands out because of the sheer audacity of the size of the annual haul.

Kings County, New York, which includes Brooklyn, generated $1.2 million from forfeiture in 2010, even though its population is 1.5 times larger. Los Angeles County also kept $1.2 million in seized assets that same year, despite having more than six times as many people as Philadelphia.

So the Philadelphia public thieves’ guild is raking in more than four times the plunder taken by other municipalities with only a fraction of their population.

[See also, “Rand Paul Is Trying to Fix Asset Forfeiture.”]

These people are just criminals. They may not know it. Part of the heartache of the system is that it directs the energies of good people into evildoing. But it is still theft.

People should not allow themselves to be ruled by thieves.