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Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Big Busts = Big Money = ?

What Happens to Confiscated Drug Money and Property?

The money is transferred to the agencies under the equitable sharing agreement, which holds that any cash, property or other proceeds forfeited to the federal government as part of a joint law enforcement investigation are then equitably shared with law enforcement agencies that participated in the case. (Ted Hart, "More Than $3.2 Million Recovered in Drug Trafficking Investigation Distributed to Law Enforcement,", June 11 2010)

“The transfer of these funds demonstrates that federal, state and local law enforcement not only work together to lock up major drug dealers, but we also share the benefits when the case is over,” Steven M. Dettelbach, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, said. “It’s our hope that this money will help these agencies continue their mission.”

Reporting Stolen, Lost or Illegal Property

Each year many Ohio police departments scramble to meet a spring deadline to submit reports to the state attorney general’s office detailing how much stolen, lost or illegal property they received and disposed of. Other departments ignore the state law entirely, and maybe for good reason: It seems that few in government ever look at the documents.

The reports, from law-enforcement agencies statewide, are collected in boxes at Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification & Investigation headquarters in London.The state requires three such reports: mandatory drug-fine collections, proceeds from the sale of property and an inventory of property seized.

When asked whether anyone looks at them, Maura O’Neill Jaite, an attorney for the agency, smiled and shook her head "no." According to her, there’s no penalty under the law for not filing. "The attorney general is merely abiding by state law in receiving the documents," O’Neill Jaite said. The law also requires the office to notify members of the legislature when the reports arrive.

Dean Narcisco of the Columbus Dispatch ("Ohio Law Requires Busy Police Work," July 11 2010) reports, "Money collected through drug raids or property auctions is kept in law-enforcement trust funds to be spent for guns, radio equipment or other police use as authorized by local governments.

The law helps to promote responsible record-keeping and internal auditing procedures at the local level by tracking what happens to seized, forfeited and converted property, said Ted Hart, spokesman for attorney general Richard Cordray. Hart said his office expects local authorities to comply with the law but has no authority to enforce it.

For example, a Reynoldsburg form indicated that no property was seized or disposed of in 2009. Reynoldsburg Police Chief David Suciu said that because many of his department’s drug busts are conducted at the federal level, they might not show on local forms. Still, Suciu signed and submitted three single-page forms. “If it’s a law that says we have to do it, we have to do it,” he said. “It’s not ours to reason why.”

Review of Ohio Forfeiture Statutes

Against this backdrop, the Ohio Criminal Sentencing Commission began its comprehensive review of Ohio forfeiture statutes in 2000. (Chief Justice Thomas J. Moyer, Chair; David J. Diroll, Executive Director; A Report of the Ohio Criminal's Sentencing Commission; March 2003)

 The new forfeiture chapter would begin by stating these purposes
(proposed §2981.01 A):

• To provide economic disincentives and remedies to deter and offset the economic effect of offenses by seizing and forfeiting contraband, proceeds, and certain instrumentalities;

• To ensure that seizures and forfeitures of property are proportionate to the offense committed;

• To protect third parties from wrongful forfeiture of their property; and

• To prioritize restitution for victims of offenses.

Gains from the sale of property forfeited as contraband, proceeds, or instrumentalities would continue to go largely to law enforcement agencies. Here is the proposed allocation (§2981.13 B). It tracks current contraband law (§2933.43 D, 1, c), except, as noted, it gives high priority to victims’ interests.

• Costs. First, pay costs incurred in the seizure, storage, maintenance, security, and sale of the property and the costs of the forfeiture proceeding;

• Victims. Second, in a criminal forfeiture case, pay any restitution ordered or, in a civil case, pay any recovery ordered for the person harmed, unless paid from other assets.

• Security Interests. Third, pay the balance due on any security interest;

• Juvenile Treatment. Fourth, if the forfeiture is in juvenile court, pay 10% of the residue to certified alcohol and drug addiction treatment programs (see §2981.12(D)), as now.

• Law Enforcement. Pay the remaining 90% in juvenile cases—or the remaining 100% in adult cases—to the appropriate fund of the prosecutor and of the agency that substantially conducted the investigation:

• To the relevant Law Enforcement Trust Fund, if it was the sheriff’s department, municipal police, township police or constable, or park district police;

• To the relevant Contraband, Forfeiture, and Other Fund, if it was the State Highway Patrol or the investigative unit of the Department of Public Safety;

• To the Drug Law Enforcement Fund, if it was Pharmacy Board officers;

• To the Medicaid Fraud Investigation and Prosecution Fund, if it was a Medicaid fraud case;

• To the Ohio Treasurer for deposit in the Peace Officer Training Commission Fund, if it was another State agency.

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