Gov't Seeks to Forfeit 4 Mosques

I'm not sure why the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York chose to amend the Government's forfeiture complaint after 11 months to include four mosques around the country. (Press release here.)

The complaint was filed in December, 2008, seeking to forfeit assets of the Alavi Foundation and Assa Corp., including a NY office building at 650 5th Avenue (which houses Piaget) which the Government alleges are fronts for Iran and tied to money laundering. The Government says the non-profit foundation sent money to the Iran's Bank Melli. The Treasury Dept. in March said Bank Melli is a fundraiser for Iran's nuclear program.

Today, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara issued a press release and made a big deal out of the amended complaint, which added four mosques as assets it is seeking to forfeit. More on that here. [More...]

Does this really have to do with Iran? Or does it have to do with the fact that Alavi filed a motion to dismiss the complaint, and last week, the Government filed its response, and the court hasn't yet ruled. I haven't read the Amended Complaint yet (hours after the press release, it still wasn't on file on PACER) but I'm wondering whether the Government is adding assets with new theories to defeat the motion to dismiss.

The media is focusing on the First Amendment aspect of seizing mosques. The Government is focusing on money laundering. They haven't actually been seized, and will not be before the lawsuit is decided. As the U.S. Attorney's spokesman said:

"No action has been taken against any tenants or occupants of those properties," said Yusill Scribner, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Manhattan. "As was the case with the underlying complaint filed in December 2008 against Assa Corporation's ownership interest in 650 Fifth Avenue, the tenants and occupants remain free to use the properties as they have before today's filing. There are no allegations of any wrongdoing on the part of any of these tenants or occupants."

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  • Display: Sort:
    Amended to . . . (none / 0) (#1)
    by Doc Rock on Thu Nov 12, 2009 at 08:52:02 PM EST
    . . .  raise the stakes after Iran's rejection of the processing in Russia proposal?

    interesting possibility. (none / 0) (#2)
    by cpinva on Fri Nov 13, 2009 at 12:23:28 AM EST
    raise the stakes after Iran's rejection of the processing in Russia proposal?

    if so, it's a misuse of the DOJ. notice the seeming inverse relationship between how loudly the DOJ announces an arrest, etc, and them actually convicting anyone then arrested?

    maybe it's just me.


    I can't figure out how the First Amendment (none / 0) (#3)
    by Peter G on Fri Nov 13, 2009 at 09:02:59 AM EST
    ... wouldn't bar the government from becoming the owner of a mosque or other house of worship, for even a second, for any purpose, including to sell it.

    Why would ... (none / 0) (#5)
    by nyrias on Fri Nov 13, 2009 at 09:27:49 AM EST
    the First Amendment in play here?

    NONE of the occupants have been detained, arrested or bar from speaking their minds.

    A Mosque is a building, and the seizing of it does not prevent anyone from expressing themselves.


    My understanding (none / 0) (#8)
    by Peter G on Fri Nov 13, 2009 at 12:11:43 PM EST
     ... of the First Amendment's protections for freedom of religion, let's just say, are quite a bit more expansive than yours, Nyrias.  In fact, even the Free Exercise Clause (not to mention freedom of speech) would extend much farther than you suggest, and in any event it was the inevitable Establishment Clause problem I was referring to, which would arise from the government's ownership of religiously-dedicated property, not "speech" or "exercise."

    I do not think .. (none / 0) (#9)
    by nyrias on Fri Nov 13, 2009 at 03:29:54 PM EST
    it is as clear cut as you have asserted.

    The definition of a "religiously-dedicated property" is up to interpretation. If the property is indeed used for other, including criminal purposes, one can argue is it no longer a religiously-DEDICATED property.

    Secondly, after the government establishes ownership, it can always turn the property into something non-religious.

    I am not a constitution expert, but my guess it the original intent of that clause is to prevent the government from promoting a certain religion by promoting it with the use of properties.

    That is OBVIOUSLY not the intent of the government in this case.


    Yes....and no (none / 0) (#6)
    by Socraticsilence on Fri Nov 13, 2009 at 10:14:59 AM EST
    It depends entirely if the government can show that the Mosques are in fact business/criminal enterprises- if this is simply a case of "recieved funds from illegitimate sources" then the US attorney's about to get schooled (if that was a possibility- then you'd have seen a lot of Catholic Churches in NYC and Long Island siezed  in th 70s and 80s when the big families were busted up- it doesn't matter were funding came from if it goes to legitmate purposes).

    Isn't the norm... (none / 0) (#4)
    by kdog on Fri Nov 13, 2009 at 09:08:43 AM EST
    to seize first, get a conviction later?  And if you don't get a conviction, make the wrongly accused sue to get their stuff back?

    No conviction involved or sought (none / 0) (#7)
    by Peter G on Fri Nov 13, 2009 at 11:34:36 AM EST
    As I understand it, the govt is invoking a civil ("in rem") forfeiture provision.  No criminal case is involved. The govt may have put a "lis pendens" on the property -- public notice that it is the subject of litigation that may affect the title -- but if no one is threatening to dissipate the property or diminish its value, there is no reason to seize or padlock it.  Procedural due process allows prehearing seizure only in an emergency and then only with a prompt, post-seizure hearing.  Better for all concerned to seize the property, if at all, only after a fully contested procedure and hearing.