The WSJ has been on a tear lately, looking at a variety of issues in law enforcement. Yeah, I know … they’re a Murdoch paper and only care about rich white people.
New York businessman James Lieto was an innocent bystander in a fraud investigation last year. Federal agents seized $392,000 of his cash anyway.
An armored-car firm hired by Mr. Lieto to carry money for his check-cashing company got ensnared in the FBI probe. Agents seized about $19 million—including Mr. Lieto’s money—from vaults belonging to the armored-car firm’s parent company.
He is one among thousands of Americans in recent decades who have had a jarring introduction to the federal system of asset seizure. Some 400 federal statutes—a near-doubling, by one count, since the 1990s—empower the government to take assets from convicted criminals as well as people never charged with a crime.
Last year, forfeiture programs confiscated homes, cars, boats, and cash in more than 15,000 cases. The total take topped $2.5 billion, more than doubling in five years, Justice Department statistics show.
Here is but one example, this one at the local level: a mayor is driving around in an SUV seized in a supposed pimp bust. Supposed because the owner of the SUV has yet to be convicted of anything. This is typical of forfeiture cases, which charge the property with a crime and require the owner to prove his innocence before returning it. And I’ll give you one guess as to what demographics these seizures hit hardest.
There was a time when asset forfeiture laws were justified: that time was the 18th century when authorities would seize smugglers’ ships because the owners of the ships lived in other countries. There is absolutely no reason that this archaic bullshit should still be practiced. But SCOTUS has consistently ruled in favor of this theft, even when an innocent person’s property is used for a crime (Bennis v. Michigan).
The last time our government did anything about this was ten years ago. And it was a Republican — Henry Hyde — who did it. There is zero chance that the “for the little guy” Democrats will, in any way, restrain the government’s power to seize people’s property. Not when they are getting such perverse pleasure out of arresting people and raiding factories because their guitars might have illegal wood in them.
At what point do we stop expecting mercy from our overlords and start demanding that they respect our liberty?