Criminal Justice

Cops are accused of forfeiture misdeeds

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Police and prosecutors in 43 states have an incentive to seize property under civil forfeiture laws that allow their departments to keep anywhere from 45 percent to 100 percent of the proceeds.

But two recent prosecutions allege officers broke the law in their handling of seized cash, according to a Forbes op-ed by Nick Sibilla, a communications associate at the Institute for Justice.

In one case, a former deputy at the Loudoun County Sheriff’s office in Virginia was convicted on March 31 for embezzling $229,000 in asset forfeiture funds. Evidence showed that the ex-deputy, Frank Michael Pearson, embezzled seized cash from 80 separate cases, according to a Justice Department press release.

In a second case, a grand jury in Oklahoma indicted Wagoner County Sheriff Bob Colbert and Deputy Jeffrey Gragg on charges of bribery conspiracy and extortion in connection with the seizure of $10,000 found in a search of a car. The indictment alleges the officers dropped charges against the driver and passenger in exchange for their disclaiming ownership of the money, according to a press release. The cash was then placed in a drug forfeiture account, the press release says. The Tulsa World and the Oklahoman covered the indictment.

Colbert’s lawyer told the Oklahoman the accusations are politically motivated and the money was lawfully seized.

The Forbes op-ed sees the cases as highlighting the need for forfeiture reform. “Lawmakers must curtail policing for profit,” the article says. “Any and all proceeds should be directed away from police budgets and towards either the general fund or a neutral fund, like education. Requiring a criminal conviction and banning roadside waivers would go far in protecting due process rights for property owners.”

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