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Sunday, January 18, 2015

No Seizure Unless Crime Applies to Community Counseling Treatment Services

"Police in Ohio are no longer allowed to seize cash unless they have evidence
that it is tied to a crime. Ohio law says the cash or property has to be
a fruit or tool of an actual crime for police to take it. That requirement
was why often Ohio police agencies submitted the cash through a
federal task force and the seizure was ‘adopted’ by the feds,
and seized by feds, but shared with the local agency."


(Bill Bush and Randy Ludlow."Holder: Police can’t seize cash if there’s no crime."
The Columbus Dispatch. January 17, 2015)


U.S. Attorney General announced that state and local police in the United States will no longer be able to use federal laws to justify seizing property without evidence of a crime. The practice of local police taking property, including cash and cars, from people they stop and handing it over to federal authorities became common during the country’s war on drugs in the 1980s.


This is a victory for safeguarding civil liberties. The order directs federal agencies that have collected property during such seizures in the past to quit participating, unless the items collected could endanger the public, as in the case of firearms.


Columbus criminal-defense-attorney Byron Potts applauded the decision, recalling a client who had $10,000 taken only because he was passing through town with it. Often, the agency taking the money was a small police department, which could use it to purchase equipment. Often, the person from whom the money was taken was young and poor and didn’t fight it, Potts said.


“That was a terrible law,” Potts said. “Just because they suspected some criminal activity but they didn’t have any proof, any conviction or anything. How do you take someone’s property without giving them an opportunity to be heard, due process?”


Franklin County Sheriff Zach Scott estimated that a local Bulk Cash Smuggling Task Force involving several police agencies has confiscated about $8 million over the past several years. Of that, maybe 8 percent — or about $640,000 — was taken without anyone being charged with a crime connected to the cash, Scott said.


Typically, money is taken because the person with the cash has a criminal record in drug trafficking or something similar, Scott said. “Usually, there’s drugs related to it.”


Does any of this rush to judgment sound familiar? It does to me.


Requiring agencies to show evidence of a crime before seizing cash and property protects innocent people from suffering debilitating injury. Imagine how you would feel if your home and/or your business were raided without solid evidence of a crime.


It is bad enough to have thieves take your money and property in an illegal break-in -- having strange criminals enter your home and ransack through your possessions violates an entire family and makes them feel at risk. If local, state, and federal authorities use a method of "thievery" as they combine to rob an innocent party, that person's reputation is also immeasurably scarred, especially in this society where it seems everyone is deemed "guilty until proven innocent" when charged with an offense.


I'm thinking about the actions taken by local and federal officials against Paul Vernier and Community Counseling Treatment Services at locations in Scioto and Lawrence counties this September.


The officials were allegedly "looking for evidence in a drug trafficking and money laundering case they said has been in the works for more than a year." They said the reason for the raid had to do with suspicion of "drug trafficking, money laundering, insurance fraud and forging prescriptions."


Lawrence County Sheriff Jeff Lawless even confidently stated to the media: "I think when money gets involved, you start not following the laws and rules and it catches up with you and I believe that's the situation we have here." What the good sheriff "believes" is not pertinent to any such disruptive intrusion of rights.


And ...


After effectively destroying Vernier's businesses, ripping apart his home while searching for evidence, and publicly declaring his criminal misconduct, the law has yet to charge him formally with any offense. No innocent person who dedicates his life to saving others should suffer such a fate at the hands of those who merely "suspect" wrongdoing.


It is evident his past drug problems, not his present generous and noble career, have played a part in the accusations -- that, and also some highly suspect political motives. Connect the dots.


Vernier has turned his own life around, completed several college degrees, and then accepted the critical responsibility of using his experience and education to impact positively the culture of addiction. After doing this, his reward has become a life full of irreparable damage not only to himself but also to his family and to his staff.


Yes, Paul Vernier's civil liberties have been crushed beneath the dark boots of suspect politicians and questionable authorities. Due process guarantees all citizens certain rights that specify the government will not be unfair or abusive. The government must provide sufficient detail to fully inform the individual of the decision or activity of search and seizure before any intrusion of person or property. Trumped up charges and suspicion prove grossly insufficient to meet the standards of evidence.


Thank God the Attorney General has pushed for the new law that disallows seizing property without evidence of a crime. The future looks brighter for innocent individuals. But, how about sins of the past and how about people like Paul Vernier? The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) should take every step to admonish those responsible for leading "witch hunts" and "wild goose chases" that rob a person of property, career, and, most of all, that rob a person of his dignity. Then, the union should mount a vigorous campaign to correct the obvious mistakes and to restore justice for the sake of the victims.


Why do I suspicion Vernier has been falsely accused? When I heard about the raid on his facilities, I made every effort to acquaint myself with the facts because I hated the devastation caused by the pill mills of the past. I wanted NO MORE illegal operations concerning drugs to take place.


Fighting the pill mills led to meeting and soliciting the help of Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske, Governor Kasich, Attorney General DeWine, and other officials. As a simple citizen, I was amazed at what a group of concerned common folks could help accomplish. Many local citizens and I did all that we could to drive these illegal operations from our county, and we were ecstatic when the last mill was raided.


Since I had suspicions about Vernier and any illegal distribution of Suboxone, I sought the truth about his operations. What I discovered made me much more suspicious about the reasons for the raid than about Mr. Vernier. I now feel as if another greedy element seeks gain by taking him down, and I wonder if this push came from the state level and then was "adopted by the feds." Conspiracy theory? I believe the facts go much further than calling this explanation just a "theory."


After reading about the new law, doesn't this make sense?


"Common sense is instinct. Enough of it is genius."

--George Bernard Shaw, Critic and Essayist

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