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How Police Confiscation Is Destroying America, Part 1
by Jarret B. Wollstein, October 1993

Part 1 | Part 2

Throughout America, police are now seizing cars, houses and bank accounts — without trial . . . and killing innocent Americans.

The police now have the legal power to confiscate anything and everything that you own. Without trial, conviction, or even indictment, police are seizing cars, bank accounts, homes, and businesses from at least 5,000 innocent Americans every week. If you resist a police confiscation, they can even cripple or kill you with impunity.

Do you want proof? Every Wednesday, Section D of USA Today newspaper lists the latest confiscations by the Drug Enforcement Administration. There, in tiny 7-point type, you will find the latest list of weekly seizures of pocket cash, bank accounts, cars, and homes, by just this one government agency.

More and more government agencies are joining in this feeding frenzy. You and I are the prey. Agencies now confiscating property from innocent Americans include the FBI, the Coast Guard, the Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. Post Office, the Bureau of Land Management, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Department of Housing — plus thousands of state and local police departments.

A sign of the times: many police departments now have their own moving vans for carting away everything you own. Your property, your liberty, and your life, are under siege. Here are a few example

Robbing Innocent Motorists

If you are stopped by police in Volusia County, Florida for a minor traffic violation, it may cost you a lot more than a $100 ticket. If Volusia police stop you on I-95, they ask, "How much cash are you carrying?" If your answer is more than a few hundred dollars, they routinely seize it.

Volusia police say that carrying more cash is "suspicious behavior." Under current laws, suspicion is all they need to confiscate your property.

If you are also carrying valuables — such as jewelry, or driving an up-scale car, they often confiscate that as well. In the last four years, these legalized highway robberies have brought in $8 million for Volusia County.

Similar car confiscations are taking place throughout America. In Houston, over 4,000 cars a year are confiscated. In New York, it's over 10,000 cars. Police car confiscation squads now operate in Louisiana, New Jersey, Alabama, Arizona, California, Texas, and many other states.

Janitor's Life Savings Confiscated

In 1989, police stopped 49-year old Ethel Hylton at Houston's Hobby Airport and told her she was under arrest because a drug dog had scratched at her luggage. Agents searched her bags and strip-searched her. They found no drugs. They did find $39,110 in cash, money she received from an insurance settlement and her life savings. Ms. Hylton had accumulated this money through over 20 years of hard, physical work, as a hotel housekeeper and hospital janitor.

Ethel Hylton completely documented where she got her money. She was never charged with a crime. But police kept her money anyway. Nearly four years later, she has little hope of ever getting her money back.

The Drug Enforcement Administration and the police now operate surveillance units at all major U.S. airports. Virtually everyone you deal with at an airport — from the ticket clerks to the baggage handlers — is paid 10% bounties for turning you in to the DEA if you buy a ticket with cash of if you look "suspicious."

Investigative reporters from 60 Minutes recently checked out reports of DEA airport confiscation squads in Atlanta, New York and other cities. In every case, within minutes of a well-dressed black undercover reporter buying a ticket for cash, a DEA agent came out and confiscated all of the money in his wallet.

DEA surveillance operations are expanding. DEA units have now been established at some major hotels, particularly in "drug centers" like Los Angeles, Miami, and New York. The DEA has even installed surveillance cameras at some agricultural supply houses, and requires salesmen to record the name, address and social security number of anyone who buys grow lights.

Couple Thrown Out of Home

Kathy and Mark Schrama were arrested on a freezing day in late December 1990, at their home in New Jersey. Kathy was charged with taking $500 worth of UPS packages from neighbors' porches. Her husband Mark was charged with receiving stolen goods.

If there had been a trial and they were found guilty, the Schramas might have received a small fine and probation. This was their first offense.

While they were at the station, police casually informed the Schramas that they could forget about ever driving their cars or going home again. Under New Jersey's forfeiture laws, the police confiscated the Schrama's two cars, their home, and all of their possessions — over $150,000 in property — without trial or conviction. Police even took their clothing, prescription medicines, eyeglasses, and Christmas presents for their 10-year-old son.

Hundreds of similar home confiscations without trial are taking place every week. To confiscate your home, all police need is a tip from an anonymous informant that a family member or friend once had drugs, pornography, or unregistered guns in your house. Once the accusation is made, they can confiscate your home at their discretion. The burden of proof is then on you to prove that the government's charges are false.

Civil-asset forfeiture is based upon the legal fiction that property — not individuals — is guilty of offenses. That legal fiction enables the government to throw all of your Constitutional rights out the window. Your property — not you — is charged, and property has no presumption of innocence, no right to legal counsel, and no right to trial by jury. Under civil-asset forfeiture, the police can confiscate your "guilty property" without ever charging you with a crime.

If you have a party at your house, and one of your guests gives a single marijuana cigarette to another guest, that is enough for police to confiscate your home. If you own a business and one of your employees uses the company telephones or fax machine to place an illegal, off-track bet, that is enough for the government to confiscate your business.

It doesn't matter if you knew nothing about these illegal acts. It doesn't matter if you strongly oppose drug use and illegal gambling. In the topsy-turvy world of civil-asset forfeiture, all that matters is your property has become "tainted" — and hence subject to forfeiture because it was used to commit an illegal act.

According to the Washington Post, the U.S. Marshall's Service alone, now has an inventory of over 30,000 confiscated, homes, cars, boats, and businesses.

The Power to Confiscate Cash.

In December 1988, Detroit police raided a supermarket to make a drug bust, but did not find any drugs. When police dogs reacted to traces of cocaine on three $1.00 bills in the cash register, they seized the entire contents of the store's registers and safe, totalling $4,384.

Using "drug residue" as a criterion, police could seize all of the cash in the country. According to a seven year study by Toxicology Consultants, "An average of 96 percent of all the bills we analyzed from 11 cities tested positive for cocaine."

A series of studies recently completed for the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing reveal that rollers in 15-27% of the government's presses that print our currency, are also contaminated with cocaine.

Doctor Reduced to Destitution

A new offense that can trigger total confiscation of your assets is the crime of "structuring." Structuring is arranging your bank deposits or withdrawals to avoid filing an IRS Currency Transaction Report (CTR).

If you have recently deposited or withdrawn as little as $3,000 in cash in your bank account without filing a CTR, you are probably guilty of structuring. The penalty is a fine of up to $250,000 and five years in prison.

A few years ago, a 65-year-old Alabama physician had his life savings seized by the IRS because of alleged structuring.

The doctor got into trouble when he consolidated his savings at a new bank opened by a friend. The banker made the mistake of suggesting that the doctor deposit his funds gradually, so he wouldn't have to file CTRs and attract IRS attention. But according to the government, simply acting in a way that falls outside their reporting requirements is itself a crime!

Using money-laundering statutes, a United States Attorney seized this elderly doctor's entire savings. The doctor is now a pauper, and could still be imprisoned for five years.

Part 1 | Part 2

Mr. Wollstein is Associate Editor of The Financial Privacy Report, PO Box 1277, Burnsville, MN 55337, and the co-author of two recent books just published by the Report — The Rage of Islam and What Really Happens When They Confiscate Your Gold. He is also a director of the International Society for Individual Liberty, 1800 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94102.

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