An assistant district attorney in the state of Oklahoma lived rent-free in a house confiscated by local law enforcement under the practice of asset forfeiture. His office paid the utility bills. He remained there for five years, despite a court order to sell the house at auction.
Another district attorney used $5,000 worth of confiscated funds to pay back his student loans.
These are just a few of the gems unearthed during a recent hearing on Oklahoma authorities’ liberal use of asset forfeiture to take property from suspected criminals and spend it on personal enrichment. OklahomaWatch.org reports:
Under state law, the money or proceeds from forfeited property are supposed to be spent on enforcement of drug laws and drug-abuse prevention and education. …
Regarding use of the property or money after seizure, audits of district attorney’s accounts by the State Auditor and Inspector’s Office have found the assets in a number of cases were misused or not accounted for.
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.
Utility bills and repairs made to the house were paid out of the district attorney’s supervision fee account, the audit states.
The audit recommended the house be sold and the supervision fee account be reimbursed.
“These conditions resulted in expenditures that were not for the enforcement of controlled dangerous substances laws, drug abuse prevention and drug abuse education,” the report stated.
State Sen. Kyle Loveless, a Republican, has sponsored a bill to make these practices less common. He would prohibit asset forfeiture unless a suspect was actually convicted of a crime, and stipulate that the money go to the state’s general fund.
It’s easy to see why these reforms are necessary—not just in Oklahoma, but everywhere. Allowing local cops and prosecutors to keep the spoils creates perverse incentives to plunder with reckless abandon.
Unsurprisingly, cops are desperate to preserve the practice:
Law enforcement officials counter that forfeiture is necessary to combat drug trafficking and say that abuses are rare. They say Loveless is hyping the issue and using scare tactics to push his bill.
“I’m very concerned that’s the line he’s taking in that,” said District Attorney Greg Mashburn, who represents Cleveland, Garvin and McClain counties and sits on the commission overseeing the Oklahoma State Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. …
Comanche County Sheriff Kenny Stradley, who also sits on the Bureau of Narcotics commission, said Loveless’ bill would cripple law enforcement agencies’ counter-drug efforts.
“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.”
We can’t stop people from having drugs unless we are allowed to steal more money has to be one of the least-convincing arguments for maintaining the drug war.