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March 2006
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Ohio, on the take

The State of Ohio, which already got a huge black eye this year from “investing” millions in pension funds with a “rare coin dealer” who was also a campaign contributor, is again being shown to have no regard for financial accountability — this time in the theft of citizens’ assets.
Greg Schwartz of the Free Times has found:

On March 1, all Ohio law enforcement agencies
were supposed to send an annual report to the state attorney general’s office listing all money and property they’ve seized in drug cases during the previous fiscal year. But since 1997, less than half have complied, according to Attorney General Jim Petro’s staff.
What’s worse, it’s not clear that Petro even cares. His staff claims that the AG’s office has “neither the authority nor the resources” to enforce such reporting, which is required by Ohio law.
Ed Orlett, a spokesperson for the Ohio chapter of Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), believes this lack of enforcement could open a Pandora’s box of potential corruption. “It’s a multi-million dollar business,” says Orlett of search-and-seizure operations. “[Authorities] seize cash and property which they liquidate, and which goes into a law enforcement slush fund of sorts.”

I haven’t talked much about this recently, but asset forfeiture is one of the major abuses that has come out of the drug war. Originally intended to go after the assets of major organized crime operations, the drug war has brought it to the retail law enforcement market, with seizures of cash, cars, houses, land — anything they can attempt to link to drug transactions, even if they don’t have enough evidence to charge the owner with a crime.
Probably the most infamous case of asset forfeiture abuse is that of Donald Scott (listed on the Drug War Victims page) — a millionaire with a large piece of land that government agencies really wanted to have. Donald was shot and killed in a raid that was intended to find some drugs so they could seize the land. A later report stated: “It is the District Attorney’s opinion that the Los Angeles County Sheriffs Department was motivated, at least in part, by a desire to seize and forfeit the ranch for the government. Based in part upon the possibility of forfeiture, Spencer obtained a search warrant that was not supported by probable cause. This search warrant became Donald Scott’s death warrant.”
There are also numerous stories of people losing their life savings or their homes. Recently, Boulder City Attorney Dave Olsen tried to seize a woman’s house for having 6 marijuana plants.
The fact that local law enforcement agencies get to keep most of what they seize (and the federal government actually helps local agencies do this, even in cases where the state government opposes it) makes this program ripe for abuse. It’s completely improper for an agency to profit from their seizure of citizens’ property, and yet that’s how the system works.
So for over half of Ohio’s law enforcement agencies to not even report what they’ve seized, and the state not hold them accountable — that’s criminal.
For more on asset forfeiture, visit Forfeiture Endangers American Rights (FEAR).

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