DEA Criticized for Mishandling Seized Funds

This comes as no surprise to me and other criminal defense lawyers representing those charged with drug crimes, but it's good to see it made public.

In an audit published Friday, Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine examined thousands of seizures between October 2003 and November 2005.

Fine's report states that drug agents rarely counted the cash they took, often didn't provide receipts for seized money, rarely recorded the seizures in agency ledgers and often didn't ask their colleagues to witness their counting and handling of the money.

What this means according to the Inspector General:

The lack of internal controls over the seized cash leads to accusations of theft by the agents, the report states.

What it means in my opinion: Sometimes less money is reported seized than actually is seized. Because of the faulty reporting, and because some may be less than honest about the amount seized, it's very hard to prove.

Also, sometimes the money isn't related to or the product of a drug deal. Just because it's cash doesn't mean it was acquired unlawfully.

That cash is often needed to feed children or make car and house payments. A lot of people suffer when agents don't follow the rules.

Just another reason why forfeited funds shouldn't go to the seizing agency.

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    prohibition was the classic example (5.00 / 1) (#8)
    by cpinva on Mon Jan 08, 2007 at 10:59:40 AM EST
    of "the law of unintended consequences". meant to foster a more "moral" society, by removing "demon rum", it instead led to the rise of organized crime to unprecedented levels, as al capone, et al saw profits to be made by supplying the thirsty with illegal goodies.

    that's not to suggest that organized crime wouldn't exist without the volstead Act, but it sure got one hell of a bump.

    i remain unconvinced, in the absence of any supporting empirical data to the contrary, that the much vaunted 40 year-old "war on drugs" has had any significant impact on (illicit) drug use in this country whatever. it has, however, created an entire new industry: the penal industry.

    with mandatory sentencing laws, a multi-billion dollar industry has a huge stake in retaining the status quo; there be money in those draconian laws!

    for all the cash we've spent fighting illegal drugs, we could probably have put every addict through the betty ford clinic.

    the DEA should be dumped (none / 0) (#1)
    by cpinva on Mon Jan 08, 2007 at 06:28:40 AM EST
    it's a beast made up by nixon, for political purposes, and does nothing more than what the FBI and ATF were doing all along. certainly, it hasn't been any more successful at it than either of the aforementioned.

    it's become a hotbed of cowboys, and an embarrasment. snuff it now, it's the right thing to do.

    Look Further Back (none / 0) (#2)
    by jarober on Mon Jan 08, 2007 at 07:08:13 AM EST
    You need to look back further than Nixon - the drug war started with prohibition.  Sadly, it wasn't ended with it.  To speak to TL's point, I'd go further - it demonstrates the corrupting nature of attacking the supply side of a problem without noticing the demand.  The war on drugs is the same kind of failure as prohibition was: it is holding down drug use (as prohibition held down alohol use) - but at a completely unacceptable cost - both in terms of lives ruined and violence generated.

    Is it? (none / 0) (#3)
    by kdog on Mon Jan 08, 2007 at 08:16:11 AM EST
    I would argue it doesn't even hold down drug use, particularly with minors.

    Prohibition is a money-maker for certain special interests, and that's all.


    Isn't it funny (none / 0) (#4)
    by scarshapedstar on Mon Jan 08, 2007 at 08:40:17 AM EST
    How the unholy union of kleptocracy and racism just won't die?

    Holding it down (none / 0) (#10)
    by peacrevol on Tue Jan 09, 2007 at 10:54:33 AM EST
    The current methods of holding down drug use is kind of like trying to put a lid on an erupting fire hydrant. It just makes a big mess. You cant stop demand or supply of an addictive substance by outlawing it. You can only shift the curve to make the price higher. The only way to slow it down is to slow the demand - education and treatment. If we stop throwing people under jails for nonviolent drug offenses, we would have fewer offenders to take care of, thus lower encarceration expenses. We could then put that money toward treatment and education to keep them from demanding substances in the first place. That might not even do much better but it should be cheaper and it cant do any worse.

    Not really (none / 0) (#5)
    by aw on Mon Jan 08, 2007 at 08:51:26 AM EST
    as prohibition held down alohol use

    Here's an interesting article about Prohibition from the Cato Institute.

    Prohibitionists wanted and expected people to switch their spending from alcohol to dairy products, modern appliances, life insurance, savings, and education. That simply did not happen. Not only did spending on alcohol increase, so did spending on substitutes for alcohol. In addition to patent medicines, consumers switched to narcotics, hashish, tobacco, and marijuana. Those products were potentially more dangerous and addictive than alcohol, and procuring them often brought users into contact with a more dangerous, criminal element.[23]

    Emphasis mine.  Dairy products!?  

    Closer to the topic at hand:

    It was hoped that Prohibition would eliminate corrupting influences in society; instead, Prohibition itself be- came a major source of corruption.
    Of course, we already knew that.  More importantly, the powers that be already knew it, too.

    just the cash? (none / 0) (#6)
    by smiley on Mon Jan 08, 2007 at 09:45:07 AM EST
    I haven't read the article.  Did the audit examine whether the the agents correctly reported all of the DRUGS they were seizing?  Becuase that's about the oldest scam in the book- use the badge to seize cash and contraband, keep cash, resell contraband to other channels.  Twice the profit!  You didn't expect those loyal officers to feed their families on just a government agent's salary, did you?  When the DEA sells illegal drugs and keeps the money, think of it as tipping your waitress.

    On the bright side.... (none / 0) (#7)
    by kdog on Mon Jan 08, 2007 at 09:55:21 AM EST
    at least the prohibited substances make it back into the market.

    Waste not want not:)!


    no, not just the cash (none / 0) (#9)
    by scribe on Mon Jan 08, 2007 at 12:27:13 PM EST
    Remember the story of Somerset County, New Jersey Prosecutor Nick Bissell.  He was legendarily tough on crime, and used the quantity and quality of seizures by subordinates in his office as the index for who got promotions, better office space, better furniture, use of seized cars and the like.

    Here's a Wiki entry on him, which is only a thumbnail of the perfidy which seizures facilitated.  The Wiki mentions the Giuffre case, and the Third Circuit's 1994 opinion (a .txt form from 1994) is posted here.  The facts as established in Giuffre v. Bissel are set forth in some detail in Part III. of that opinion - I won't link as they're lengthy, you'll have to scroll down.  

    Bissell even went so far as to literally dip into the till of a gas station he owned in partnership with a subordinate, which was captured on video.  And he was prosecutor in that (solidly Republican) county for years.  One should also note that, at the time he slipped electronic monitoring and skipped from Jersey to Laughlin, NV, he had already been convicted in federal court and was awaiting sentencing.