I’d like to tell you a story about a man named Russ Caswell, who’s family has owned and operated a motel in Tewksbury, Massachusetts for over 30 years.
After two generation of being family owned and operated this local business is threatened with closing its doors forever.
Now you might think that its because of hard times or economic troubles, but you would be wrong. You might also assume that he refused to pay his property taxes, and you would still be wrong. Mr. and Mrs. Caswell own their property free and clear.
The reason that this privately owned business might be shut down for good is because the local police, in conjunction with federal authorities, want to seize this family’s business and sell it for a profit which will be divided between federal and local authorities under a policy called equitable sharing set forth by federal civil forfeiture laws.
Now here is where most of you would assume that the owners broke some law or violated some local ordinance, and you would again be wrong.
So, why does the government want this man’s property, valued at around 1 million dollars? Well, because approximately 0.0005% of the people who have rented rooms from Mr. Caswell over the last 20 years have been arrested for committing crimes on his property.
You might then assume that he was conspiring with criminals or looking the other way, and once again you would be wrong. Mr. Caswell has had a history of working with authorities to stop criminal activity occurring on his property.
How then could any of this be possible, you ask?
In the United States Code and in most states, exist civil forfeiture laws which allow authorities to seize property which may be associated with criminal activity. No conviction is required and no laws must be broken by the owner of the property. Under a preponderance of evidence, which is the lowest burden of proof accepted by a court, any privately owned property can be seized and sold off to pad the budgets of local and federal law enforcement agencies.
Since the inception of this financial incentive in 1986 the federal forfeiture fund has grown to over 1.6 billion dollars in 2010.
Here in the Keystone State, authorities have raked in an average of 5.9 million dollars a year, between 2000 and 2008, from seizures in conjunction with federal authorities using the same civil forfeiture laws that are being used to rob Mr. Caswell of his business and his retirement.
In Pennsylvania, our law mirrors federal law and what is happening to Mr. Caswell could easily happen to any business owner reading this.
What makes matters worse is that the money gained from selling seized property, in Pennsylvania, is held in a fund that is not open to public scrutiny and is used at the discretion of local district attorneys with minimal oversight.
Many people are not even aware these laws exist and only discover them when they are staring down the barrel of a gun while police force them out of their homes and businesses.
Take the time to educate yourself on civil forfeiture laws by visiting http://www.ij.org and call your elected representatives to let them know you want these tyrannical laws taken off the books.