The Sackler Family are best known for philanthropy, but their real legacy is the opioid epidemic, which they engineered through their family firm, Purdue Pharmaceutical, which used a variety of front organizations that paved the way for massive overprescription of the company's painkillers, while covering up the flaws in the drug-testing for Purdue's products and the false claims about their safety and efficacy.
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It took four years, but the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has finally ruled in favor of 72 year old grandmother Elizabeth Young, whose house was seized by the Philadelphia District Attorney under asset forfeiture rules when her son was caught selling $140 worth of marijuana to undercover agents.
Under civil forfeiture rules, cops and DAs get to steal property suspected of being the proceeds of a crime, then they sue the inanimate objects. The owners of the objects can hire lawyers to represent their property, while the taxpayers foot the bill for the state's side of the suit. If the government wins, it gets to keep the property or sell it and pocket the proceeds.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court blasted the DA for the seizure and reminded the state's lawyers and cops that they can only invoke civil forfeiture when there is good reason to believe that the property's owner "knew of and agreed to the crimes" in question.
The cop who bought the marijuana from Young's son is currently serving a 3.5 year federal prison sentence for planting drugs on suspects.
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Young is far from the only person to have her house seized by the Philadelphia D.A. for a minor drug crime that she didn't even commit. In 2013, Philadelphia police seized the house of Christos and Markela Sourovelis after their son was arrested for selling $40-worth of drugs outside of it.
The Sourovelis' sued, with assistance from the libertarian-leaning Institute for Justice, a nonprofit law firm that has challenged asset forfeiture laws in several states.
Banks have to report deposits of $10,000 or more to the IRS, so some fraudsters "structure" their transactions as a string of sub-$10K payments that escape the regulatory requirement. Structuring is also illegal, and the IRS has the power to seize funds that the agency believes were part of a structuring scheme, under the discredited "civil fofeiture" process through which an inanimate object is sued for being the proceeds of a crime, and then the owner of that object has to prove that the object is "innocent." Read the rest
Since 2009, the Chicago Police Department has seized $72M worth of property from people who were not convicted of any crime, through the discredited civil forfeiture process, keeping $48M worth of the gains (the rest went to the Cook County prosecutor's office and the Illinois State Police) in an off-the-books, unreported slush fund that it used to buy secret surveillance gear. Read the rest
In the Bronx (and, to a lesser extent, elsewhere) when your belongings are seized as "evidence," it can be impossible to ever get them back, even if you're never charged with a crime. Read the rest
A USA Today investigation has discovered a network of paid informants working for Amtrak and nearly every US airline who illegally delve into passengers' travel records to find people who might be traveling with a lot of cash: these tip-offs are used by the DEA to effect civil forfeiture -- seizing money without laying any charges against its owner, under the rubric that the cash may be proceeds from drug sales. One Amtrak secretary was secretly paid $854,460 to raid her employer's databases for the DEA. Read the rest
The Oklahoma Department of Public Safety has purchased several 'Electronic Recovery and Access to Data' devices to install in police cruisers for seizing funds from prepaid debit cards during roadside arrests. Read the rest
Crooked cops and prosecutors in Nebraska are gnashing their teeth today. The state has taken away their license to steal cash and property from innocent people and use the proceeds to fatten their bloated budgets.
In some states where civil forfeiture is still allowed, high ranking police officers drive in luxury sports cars taken from owners who were never arrested for a crime.
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The Intercept has obtained a secret government catalog that law enforcement agencies use to source even-more-secret cellular spying devices, mostly variants on the Read the rest
US police seized $4.5 billion through civil asset forfeiture (through which police can take money and valuables away from citizens without charging anyone with any crimes) in 2014; in the same period, the FBI estimates that burglars accounted for $3.9B in property losses. Read the rest
The military surveillance devices known as "Dirtboxes" have been in secret operation for more than a decade, tracking citizens' locations and intercepting their calls, breaking the encryption on hundreds of calls at once. Read the rest
In July 2014 the St. Clair County Drug Task Force raided medical marijuana patient Ginnifer Hency's home and "took everything," including a car, TV sets, a ladder, her children's cellphones and iPads, and even her vibrator. The charges were dropped against Hency (who uses weed to relieve pain from multiple sclerosis) because she was complying with Michigan's medical marijuana laws, but county prosecutors decided to keep her family's property because they claimed civil forfeiture laws allowed them to. Hency said a prosecutor told her, "I can still beat you in civil court. I can still take your stuff."
But a recent Michigan Supreme Court ruling on medical marijuana means Hency's case is "no longer viable," said St. Clair County Prosecutor Michael Wendling, and they will return Hency's property.
From Detroit Free Press:
The Supreme Court ruling last week clarified when caregivers and users can use their medical marijuana certification as a defense or immunity if charged with a marijuana-related crime. It was the court’s ninth medical marijuana ruling since voters approved the Michigan Medical Marijuana Marihuana Act in 2008.
“We would have to have specific evidence on those items in order to overcome that burden now that we did not have to show before,” Wendling said.
Hency’s lawyer, Michael Komorn, told the Free Press the decision “does not eliminate the horror of what they’ve had to deal with the last year."
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"Yesterday, two landmark reforms took effect in Montana and New Mexico," says Nick Sibilla. "Both states now require a criminal conviction for civil forfeiture, while New Mexico went even further and banned the practice outright." Read the rest
My parents just got back from a road-trip from Toronto to Florida, and used Dave Hunter's venerable Along Interstate-75 to find food and lodgings, pass the hours, and beat the speed-traps and civil forfeiture nightmares of America's great roadways. Read the rest
The Reagan era kicked off a project to dismantle social mobility and equitable justice. This trenchant, angry, gorgeous graphic zine launched in response.