Audits Of Asset Forfeiture Program Uncover Funds Used To Pay Student Loans, Property Used As Rent-Free Housing
from the stealing-our-way-to-justice! dept
Student loan debt is a serious problem here in the US as the price of higher education continues to outpace every standard economic yard stick. Lots of people think the government should step in to do something about it. While the administration makes helpful noises and tries to figure out how it can effectively tell Americans it’s alright to rack up debt and walk away from it without actually, you know, encouraging Americans to get deeply in debt and walk away from it, one government employee is taking the bold steps the US government won’t to eradicate student loan debt… specifically, his.
In a 2014 audit of the DA’s office representing Washington and Nowata counties [Oklahoma], the State Auditor’s Office found that $5,000 in forfeiture funds had been used to make payments on an assistant district attorney’s student loans.
That’s a pretty egregious abuse of seized funds, and that’s even if you find the whole asset forfeiture system mostly abuse-free when it comes to seizing property. Unbelievably, the DA’s office defended the use of the public’s money to pay off personal student loans.
The report said the district attorney maintained the expense was justified because most of the cases the assistant DA prosecuted were drug cases.
Which means what? That he was involved in several drug prosecutions and therefore entitled to a percentage of the take for his own personal use?
But no need to worry about the misspent $5,000. The DA’s office has already “repaid” it using money seized a bit more lawfully via taxation.
After the issue came to light, the Oklahoma District Attorneys Council reimbursed the $5,000 using funds from its own student-loan program, the State Auditor’s report states.
So, everything’s cool now. Except:
A 2009 audit of the District Attorney’s Office that represents Beaver, Cimarron, Harper and Texas counties found that a Beaver County assistant district attorney began living rent-free in a house obtained in a 2004 forfeiture. A judge had ordered the house sold at an auction, but the prosecutor lived there through 2009.
A bold new opportunity in real estate! Open to law enforcement members only!
There’s so much more.
Schroedinger’s seized pickup truck — listed as “sold” at an auction — remains in a sold/unsold state as neither the pickup, the paperwork nor the cash generated from the sale can be located. One district further perverted the perverse incentives by spending seized money before it had even been processed by the courts. In other instances, the money made its way onto the ledgers as “seized,” but forfeiture cases were never filed. (This is particularly evil because without a filing, there’s almost no way to challenge the seizure.)
The violations found by these audits are the sort of thing everyone should have expected when they allowed law enforcement to start seizing property without bringing criminal charges. Guns, vehicles and cash go missing. Proceeds from auctions are used to pay court costs and fund retirement parties. The program basically allows officers to steal from people they’ve already dehumanized as “drug traffickers.” So, if someone’s property goes missing and ends up as an off-the-books personal use vehicle/gun for some cop, no one’s going to spend too much time worrying about the supposed “criminal” whose property has been seized. That’s why the accountability is so lax and that’s why the laws granting officers these powers need to be — at minimum — rewritten, if not taken off the books entirely.
And, as is always the case when asset forfeiture is attacked by legislators and regulators, there’s a caricature of law enforcement on hand to offer homespun words of wisdom in defense of the legalized theft:
“I know for a fact we all try to work very hard to rid this devil’s candy (drugs) off of our state. And for someone to try and push us back — sheriff’s departments, police departments — that’s how we continue our fight, is to take that money and go forward,” Stradley said. “That will set us back many, many, many years.”
Will it set you back to 1990? And put you right in the middle of the crack epidemic? Or will it take you back to the 1920’s, when marijuana was making jazz music tolerable and turning non-Caucasian males into rapists? How many years exactly will forcing Oklahoma law enforcement to accompany seizures with criminal charges set back these agencies? We all want to know. Even those of us who swore off the devil’s candy years ago or never made it past anything harder than devil’s food cake.