Big Forfeiture Case To Be Heard in Federal Court on Monday

Friday, February 10th, 2012

As you might expect, it’s an Institute for Justice case.

Imagine you own a million-dollar piece of property free and clear, but then the federal government and local law enforcement agents announce that they are going to take it from you, not compensate you one dime, and then use the money they get from selling your land to pad their budgets—all this even though you have never so much as been accused of a crime, let alone convicted of one.

That is the nightmare Russ Caswell and his family is now facing in Tewksbury, Mass., where they stand to lose the family-operated motel they have owned for two generations.

Seeking to circumvent state law and cash in on the profits, the Tewksbury Police Department is working with the U.S. Department of Justice to take and sell the Caswells property because a tiny fraction of people who have stayed at the Motel Caswell during the past 20 years have been arrested for crimes.  Keep in mind, the Caswells themselves have worked closely with law enforcement officials to prevent and report crime on their property.  And the arrests the government complains of represent less than .05 percent of the 125,000 rooms the Caswells have rented over that period of time.

Despite all this, the Caswells stand to lose literally everything they have worked for because of this effort by federal and local law enforcement officials not to pursue justice, but rather to police for profit.

The feds’ position is that the Caswells haven’t done enough to prevent drug crimes from occurring at the motel. There have been similar cases in the past in which law enforcement officials have demanded that businesses spend tens of thousands dollars to install outdoor lighting, hire security (sometimes off-duty cops from the same police agency, as it turns out), and take other expensive measures or risk losing their bar or motel or nightclub to forfeiture.

The Caswell’s case will be argued in a federal district court in Boston on Monday. More on civil asset forfeiture here.

And here’s an IJ video on the Caswell case:

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45 Responses to “Big Forfeiture Case To Be Heard in Federal Court on Monday”

  1. #1 |  CyniCAl | 

    “The Caswell’s case will be argued in a federal district court in Boston on Monday.”

    So the government gets to decide if the government’s actions are legal? That sounds fair to me.

    Please Master! Please let me keep my property! I throw myself on your mercy!

    “… o’er the land of the free …”

  2. #2 |  goober1223 | 

    All of this over 63 incidences out of 125,000 stays in 20 years? About 3 per year. If this is some organized crime or negligence they are awfully bad at it. How can you establish a pattern to deter against with such low occurrence? That’s like trying to calculate how fast a car is going by taking a picture of the wheels every 5 seconds. It’s pointless.

  3. #3 |  Mattocracy | 

    IJ is one of the few org’s I give money to.

  4. #4 |  Rich | 

    In other place and time, the proper term for this proscribed behavior by the police would by Shakedown or Extorsion.

  5. #5 |  Rich | 

    Sorry, in another place and time, this proscribed behavior by the police would be called a Shakedown or Extorsion

  6. #6 |  DrBob | 

    well, the whitehouse has had less than 50 residents, and at least one was convicted of a crime (clinton, perjury)… that is at least 2% … shouldnt they focus on those numbers instead of 0.05% ?

  7. #7 |  CSD | 

    If a law enforcement agency commits a crime who gets to take their stuff?

  8. #8 |  CSD | 

    Looks like another hotel forfeiture is coming:

    http://www.ksn.com/news/local/story/Police-raid-Wichita-motel-after-undercover/R3H4iiXjQkKfpInVykwUAg.cspx

  9. #9 |  M | 

    Isn’t making private people do police work equivalent to a police draft (except without compensation)?

  10. #10 |  BamBam | 

    The State (mafia) allows you to run a business via a license, thus they make the rules, thus they can change them at any time (usually to suit their own purposes and to be a hypocrite and immoral). Is anyone surprised?

    What I want to read about is someone who says NO and stands up for liberty. Next thing you know, we have another Waco or Ruby Ridge or ___ or ___ or ___

  11. #11 |  MikeZ | 

    “All of this over 63 incidences out of 125,000 stays in 20 years? About 3 per year.”

    First off I completely agree the entire concept of civil forfeiture thing is bogus. Without some criminal conviction the government should never be taking assets.

    However, I bet the real figure isn’t 3 incidents per year. More likely the Police would use a statistic something like “There have been 37 arrests over the last 2 years”* or perhaps “At one point last year we were arresting suspects at a rate of 3 per week”* or something similar. With both sets of lawyers choosing the time period to average over to make the math look good for their clients. I certainly don’t fault them for this but that particular statistic seems somewhat arbitrary.

  12. #12 |  JdL | 

    If I were Mr. Caswell, and I lost this case, I’d seriously consider going postal.

    There is very little justice left in America today.

  13. #13 |  Mario | 

    Next, Mayor Bloomberg can confiscate the Waldorf Astoria for hookers and blow.

  14. #14 |  jmcross | 

    @ #10
    You can fill in your blanks with “Lexington”, “Concord” & “Boston massacre”.

  15. #15 |  orangeyouglad | 

    This story seems apropos.

  16. #16 |  Cornellian | 

    Wow does that guy ever look like Walter Matthau.

  17. #17 |  Stick | 

    Just sent some cash to IJ.

  18. #18 |  el coronado | 

    …and this, sports fans, is why The Drug War will never ever end. No matter how may more rights we lose. No matter how much the people and (a few) pols might clamor for it. No matter how much its grotesque 100-year record of pathetic, miserable, utter _failure_ generates derision, open contempt and hatred for government and (most especially) the LEO mafia: cops/prosecutors/judges, and – sad but true – defense lawyers. (Ever known a lawyer to give up a clientele that generates reliable business & profits year after year, regular like clockwork? I haven’t.)

    Samo samo. Cui bono. Follow the Dinero. Weekly cash-stuffed envelopes from the cartels that successfully negotiate a blind eye and/or protection form the cops; big fat checks from asset seizures. Win/Win. Money for nothing, chicks for free.

    If only Comrade Stalin….er, “Obama” knew of this, surely he’d put a stop to it! Golly, maybe we should start a *petition* or something!

  19. #19 |  Dangerous Dave | 

    Okay, keeping in mind that I am 100% opposed to the civil forfeiture scam, I have to weigh in as a person living in the area.

    This motel is basically an apartment building for every crackhead, scumbag, and drug dealer within 25 miles (being Mass, no one can afford living anywhere else.) Most hotel “guests” pretty much live there permanently. This is a TERRIBLE, TERRIBLE place from which much of the crime in the community as a whole originates.

    Should this guy lose his property over that? Of course not. But I just need to point that out because the IJ’s video for this kind of makes it seem like this is just some innocent, idyllic place in the crosshairs of evil bureaucrats.

    I’m not an expert on the civil tort laws of our Commonwealth, but I wonder if a civil case on a nuisance theory would be the proper way to to go at this hellhole? It seems like that – rather than “take the property entirely” – is the traditional method of pursuing property owners who allow conditions that are damaging to society as a whole to flourish unchecked.

  20. #20 |  Aresen | 

    MikeZ | February 10th, 2012 at 5:36 pm
    “All of this over 63 incidences out of 125,000 stays in 20 years? About 3 per year.”

    -However, I bet the real figure isn’t 3 incidents per year. More likely the Police would use a statistic something like “There have been 37 arrests over the last 2 years”*

    Or, as they would say in “The Rest of the Story”, they laid 37 charges against one person for having 37 pills.

  21. #21 |  Onlooker | 

    For the life of me I’ll never understand how this B.S. ever passed muster under the fifth amendment. And yes, I’ve read all the explanations of it, etc. But it’s all utter and complete crap. This has to be the most blatant violation of our rights out there (and that’s saying a lot these days, as this group knows well.)

    And kudos are definitely in order for the IJ. God knows somebody’s got to fight this good fight against the outright theft being perpetrated by government.

  22. #22 |  C. S. P. Schofield | 

    This comes of accepting the reasoning “We know certain people are guilty, we just have to change the rules until we can GET them.” I’ve been watching the appalling effects of this for some decades now.

    The anti-smoking fanatics knew, just KNEW, that lung cancer was caused by tobacco and that nobody would choose to smoke tobacco unless they were addicted. So the rules on addiction and legal cause were shifted until we could “Get” the tobacco companies. And now we have to watch buttinskis like Bloomberg trying to outlaw certain kinds of food.

    Everybody KNEW that the Mob ran all kinds of rackets, but it was often awfully hard to prove. So we have RICO, which is so badly written that if you protest over something that it isn’t socially correct to protest (such as Abortion. And I’m pro-abortion, BTW), you can watch your church’s assets being seized under RICO.

    Everybody KNEW that there was a huge underground river of money in the drug trade that no number of busts ever touched. So now we have asset forfeiture, and the government can take everything you’ve got without having to prove you’ve done anything wrong.

    Every time a high profile case is tried in the Media and the jury disagrees with the pundits, there are twits all over, screaming for a change in the rules, so that “they can’t get away with it next time”. These people should be clubbed to death like harp seals.

  23. #23 |  a_random_guy | 

    Indeed, another reason that the US is dropping in international rankings for transparency, i.e., is perceived as increasingly corrupt.

    Remimds me of a friend here in Texas, who was moving his (largish) business to a new building. He just couldn”t get the signoff on the final building inspection – there was always some new, niggling little issue. Finally, the head inspector said something like “yeah, it’s not uncommon to have to spend $x resolving problems like this”. Finally cluing in, my friend left an unaddressed check for $x lying around the next time the head inspector visited. Funny, the check disappeared, nothing was said, but the next inspection passed.

  24. #24 |  nospam | 

    Expect the court to find some nice way to let the cops take the property. “Greater good” or “compelling government interest” or some other steaming pile of shit. Why? Because they have to.

    You see, we’re in the terminal stage. A lot of people thought that once the economy crashes that the government will wither away because the tax money just won’t be there to fund it. What we are all going to see first hand is that the real purpose of government (at any level, really) is not to serve the people, but to continue it’s own existence. That requires money and resources. If that doesn’t come from taxes, it will be taken in whatever form they can find at the business end of a gun. Much like a wild animal, if it’s has lots of fresh gazelle carcass in front of it , it’s content to eat, lay about and sun itself. But once it gets hungry enough, all it knows is that it hungers.

  25. #25 |  croaker | 

    If I were the owner and lost this case, I’d seriously consider torching the place.

    If it’s good enough for Little House On The Prairie…

  26. #26 |  Andy S | 

    What’s the arrest rate for the population as a whole? How does it compare to the hotel’s guests?

  27. #27 |  John C. Randolph | 

    I’ll never understand how this B.S. ever passed muster under the fifth amendment.

    It doesn’t. The US government, from the very beginning, has routinely violated the bill of rights.

    -jcr

  28. #28 |  John C. Randolph | 

    Finally, the head inspector said something like “yeah, it’s not uncommon to have to spend $x resolving problems like this”. Finally cluing in, my friend left an unaddressed check for $x lying around the next time the head inspector visited. Funny, the check disappeared, nothing was said, but the next inspection passed.

    It’s a shame that your friend didn’t get it on tape, and get that little prick thrown in jail.

    -jcr

  29. #29 |  Dan Z | 

    I would go all Killdozer if I owned the hotel.

  30. #30 |  Psion | 

    No … not arson, not a bulldozer. A hundred men of conscience and principle armed with rifles. The “Sons of Jefferson” I’d call them. Unfortunately, when I look in the mirror, I doubt I’d be one … and the fact that’s a common affliction is the reason things have gotten the way they have.

  31. #31 |  supercat | 

    @Psion: What I’ve wished would be that some people could start up a network and maintain a list of all the crooks in government and what they’ve done. I’m not sure how one would go about vetting the list to ensure that it only included the people who deserved to be on it, but what I’d like to see would be for many individuals and businesses to start denying these people all the various courtesies that make life bearable for honest people. Make it so that none of them will know, the next time they’re on the road and visit a diner, whether the waitress, with the full knowledge and approval of management, might “forget” their order, etc. Basically, find every possible way to make their lives miserable, as they deserve to be.

  32. #32 |  JimBob | 

    @croaker

    It also worked for Ellis Wyatt, if you’re of that persuasion.

  33. #33 |  The Civil Forfeiture Outrage: American Government At Its Worst, So Naturally We Ignore It | Ethics Alarms | 

    [...] to Radley Balko for the story.] Share [...]

  34. #34 |  CyniCAl | 

    #24 ftw

  35. #35 |  Stick | 

    @ #31 supercat – I’ve had similar fantasies myself. I thought of ‘investigating’ some of the more public players (DA’s, Police chiefs, state representitives etc), with the help of the seediest private eyes you can find. The videos of their nefarious activities would make interesting viewing on the ‘Free anonymous DVD’s’ that would be delivered to thousands of homes across the state. From there copies would spread like a plague across the country. Ah well, it will never happen.

  36. #36 |  Mannie | 

    #22 | C. S. P. Schofield | February 10th, 2012 at 8:07 pm

    Every time a high profile case is tried in the Media and the jury disagrees with the pundits, there are twits all over, screaming for a change in the rules, so that “they can’t get away with it next time”. These people should be clubbed to death like harp seals.

    You’re much too nice.

  37. #37 |  paranoiastrksdp | 

    Someone in the private sector wanted that property and called in a favor, most likely. Hasn’t that happened before?

  38. #38 |  StrangeOne | 

    #28 JCR

    If he had done that the business owner would have been arrested for bribery first, with the prosecution taking things to the limit on ridiculous charges. The inspector might have had charges pressed if enough public outcry existed, but regardless you can be sure other government thugs would have made the business owner regret it. That’s how a mafia works, you screw one guy out of payment, and another is breaking your windows next week.

    #37 paranoia

    Look up the Supreme Court Case Kelo v. City of New London.

  39. #39 |  EBL | 

    This should be a bigger story than Kelo! I linked it to this post about a warning to the GOP candidates that no nanny staters should apply: http://evilbloggerlady.blogspot.com/2012/02/warning-to-gop-candidates-no-nanny.html But this end run around the 5th amendments’s prohibition of takings without just compensation makes me mad.

  40. #40 |  EBL | 

    At least in Kelo they paid the money to the people whose property they took (granted at a level less than what it was really worth). Here these people have the choice of either fighting and incurring massive attorney fees or losing and getting nothing!

    I am getting madder now just thinking about it.

  41. #41 |  Psion | 

    Supercat, I actually love that idea! Non-violent, and it gets the point across.

  42. #42 |  Stephen Tower | 

    I live in Tewksbury, and grew up the next town over. The Motel Caswell infamous for crime. It’s a really seedy place in an otherwise nice pleasant suburb. Still, there’s no justification for confiscating the property from the owner.

  43. #43 |  February 17 roundup | 

    [...] Caswell Motel case from Tewksbury, Mass. heads to court, could test forfeiture law [Balko] [...]

  44. #44 |  David | 

    Any reports of what was said at argument?

  45. #45 |  A Broker in Pillage | Nobody's Business | 

    [...] which net the largest profits; a quarter-million dollar aircraft is small potatoes compared to a million-dollar motel: Imagine you own a million-dollar piece of property free and clear, but then the federal government [...]

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