Proving Forfeiture is an Ass – et: Feds Seize Couples $400,000 Lifetime Savings After Small Amount of Pot Found

In light of the recent hearing on mandatory asset freezing and restitution, Congress should look at the on-going controversy over an asset forfeiture in Lima Ohio. Luther and Meredith Ricks were victims of a break-in at their home by two burglars. Luther was able to kill one of the men and called police. The police, however, were quickly drawn to a small amount of marijuana in the house: used by Luther to deal with pain from arthritis and a recent surgery. The result? The feds (who were not involved in the case) have seized $400,000 of their life savings.

Longtime employees of the Ohio Steel Foundry, the Ricks kept the money in the house because they do not trust banks. The break-in occurred in June 2007 and both Luther and his son were attacked.

Notably, there was no charge for the pot and the Federal Bureau of Investigation were not involved. However, when the assets were identified in the house, the FBI immediately claimed the money.

Given my earlier testimony here, I thought the case could be instructive for those who are unconcerned about mandatory asset freezing orders. There is now a powerful financial incentive for the government and others to claim assets. The new law would turn this problem into a virtual feeding frenzy since not just the government but citizens could make claims on the assets. The government could seek to freeze assets before any charge or trial.

For a discussion of the case, click here.

18 thoughts on “Proving Forfeiture is an Ass – et: Feds Seize Couples $400,000 Lifetime Savings After Small Amount of Pot Found”

  1. fuck the system. Fuck the government. Fuck the jew banker fags who work in cohoots with US government.

    Society doesn’t want me- fuck america.

    I’m living off the system. No taxes for me. Free food stamps and social security for me. For life.

    apartment for me. You’ll never see me owned like a bitch by some jew banker who makes $30,000 off me in interest on a 30 year mortgage.

    fuck their insurance companies too. The state can bury me.

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  3. goldhorders:

    Agreed. Funny thing, I too was stopped, but not by Arabs, instead it was a roving gang of neo-cons. They took my money, gave it to their friends in the petroleum industry and among military-industrialist complex, and then told me I was unpatriotic for questioning them. There are all sorts of highwaymen these days.

  4. The threat from Japan and Hitler in 1941 was every bit as lethal.

    Something tells me the threat was a bit more severe than the guys with boxcutters. I mean…over 100 million dead for crying out loud. Really though…than god for the torture. I was driving home from work yesterday when I was stopped by a roving band of Arabs. They started discussing chopping off my head…and than they said ohhh wait a minute. That Bush guy might torture us…and they let me go on my merry way.

    Americans like Betta are pretty pathetic. What a bunch of bed wetters

  5. David W.,
    You are obviously knowledgeable of the law and case law in this instance. I agree with you that all the facts of the case are not on the table. At issue too is how long would it take the defendants to reclaim their property and at what legal cost? The defendants would be facing the government which has virtually unlimited resources at their disposal, if the law, case law and truth was on their side, it would be an uphill battle.

    To me the central point in this is that the “war on drugs” is a boondoggle that has allowed demagogues to pass legislation that is contrary to common sense and the public interest. It’s religious tinged rhetoric and the drumbeat of pseudo-scientific babble has caused many judges to make decisions that are unworthy of our judicial system. Many of these judges are frightened of the abuse they will publicly suffer for being too lenient. It is time to bring this phony war to a close and that event alone would prove a great benefit to society.

  6. Any attempt at a legal analysis based on sketchy news reports is unwise.

    On one hand, the circumstances surrounding this story are somewhat strange. Nor does the article describe exactly what quantity of marijuana was found.

    But assuming the facts are as described and the amount was consistent with personal use & they weren’t distributing it to others, a good lawyer should be able to beat the forfeiture or at least have it reduced significantly.

    The Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 2000 (Pub. L. No. 106-185, 106th Congr. (2000)) implemented the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Bajakajian, 524 U.S. 321 (1998), allowing the claimant in a civil forfeiture proceeding to show that the forfeiture is grossly disproportional to the gravity of the offense. See 18 U.S.C.A. § 983(g).

    Cases upholding massive forfeitures usually involve trafficking operations or the large-scale cultivation of marijuana. E.g., U.S. v. Myers, 21 F.3d 826 (8th Cir. 1994) (forfeiture of drug defendant’s entire farm did not constitute excessive fine in violation of Eighth Amendment; entire farm was extensively involved in facilitating marijuana-growing operation by providing not only the location but ideal concealment of the operation).

    Even in states with medicinal marijuana laws, they can’t be used as a defense to a forfeiture of real property. U.S. v. Real Property Located at 5300 Lights Creek Lane, 116 Fed. Appx. 117 (9th Cir. 2004) (involving 37 pounds of medicinal marijuana grown at home for private distribution).

    Notably, in the 1970s, Ohio decriminalized marijuana for personal use. The Ohio law is among the most permissive of any marijuana decriminalization legislation in the United States. It fines the offender $100 for the possession of 100 grams or less of marijuana with no jail time and no criminal record.

    As such, it’s hard to fathom how a court would consider it proportionate or reasonable to forfeit $400,000 for a minor possession.

    More importantly, merely finding money in the presence of drugs, without more, doesn’t automatically establish a connection between the two. Cf., U.S. v. U.S. Currency, $30,060.00, 39 F.3d 1039 (9th Cir. 1994) (narcotics detection dog alerted to presence of controlled substance on money in automobile; money was packaged in $1,000 bundles corresponding to price of 2 kilos of cocaine; claimant’s false accounts of money’s source & employment record; insufficient to establish probable cause money connected to drugs); also, United States v. $149,442.43 in U.S. Currency, 965 F.2d 868, 876-877 (10th Cir. 1992) (government must show probable cause to believe a nexus existed between the defendant property and illegal activity sufficient to justify forfeiture).

    And even assuming the husband is tied to illegal drug activity within the home, that doesn’t mean the wife can be forced to forfeit her share of the couple’s savings. Von Hofe v. U.S., 492 F.3d 175 (2nd Cir. 2007) (forfeiture of claimant-wife’s one-half interest in family residence based on wife’s alleged knowledge of husband’s growing of marijuana in residence, which would amount to a $124,000 fine, was excessive, in violation of the Excessive Fines Clause; even if jury found that wife was not an “innocent owner”, wife bore minimal blame for criminal activity that occurred at residence, absent evidence indicating any involvement in criminal activity beyond knowledge).

    Also relevant would be the lack of any previous drug sales by the couple; a lack of connections with others involved in narcotics trafficking; the particular location of the money (hidden in an area where money wouldn’t normally be found vs. in a safe as described in the article); evasive or incomplete answers concerning ownership or source of the money; and attempts to hide the currency when confronted by law enforcement. U.S. v. $405,089.23 U.S. Currency, 122 F.3d 1285 (9th Cir. 1997); U.S. v. $87,118.00 in U.S. Currency, 95 F.3d 511, 518-19 (7th Cir. 1996); U.S. v. $67, 220.00 in U.S. Currency, 957 F.2d 280 (6th Cir. 1992).

  7. Correct me if I’m wrong but didn’t the “War on Drugs” lead to the RICO statutes, within which forfeiture was encapsulated? This “war on drugs”
    has cost billions, affected thousands (if not millions of lives) and has resulted in complete failure and total lack of understanding of the issues of drug abuse and/or addiction. However, it has produced a thriving, self-perpetuating industry, whose stated goals are unrealistic and whose results are awash in failure. While there may well be more to this story, as indicated by the peculiar fact set, the “war on drugs”; the concept of forfeiture; the profit making of the “anti-drug community; the undue incarceration of the underclass; and the tyranny of Rico Statutes must be eliminated as one of the steps to be taken to preserve our constitutional rights. The trouble is any politician with the guts to say so will be immediately attacked without mercy by those who are profiting from the current state of affairs.

  8. “Notably, there was no charge for the pot and the Federal Bureau of Investigation were not involved. However, when the assets were identified in the house, the FBI immediately claimed the money.”

    Amazing how the legal fiction of “The property is guilty of the crime” still holds up when there are no charges filed against the alleged criminals.

  9. Betta, thanks for your concern about my caffeine intake, but it is unnecessary. I stand by what I said in my earlier post, your reaction to it notwithstanding.

    But you might want to keep the words of Benjamin Franklin in mind:

    “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

    And I agree with Mespo’s statement as well: “If you would give up your rights, paid for with blood of your fellow citizens for over two hundred years, and also give up your children’s and their children’s rights for a little perceived safety, you and your kind are nothing but cowards.”

    I’m not willing to live in a right-wing dictatorship just to imagine myself as being “safe.” What a shame that you want that type of government not just for yourself but everyone else as well.

  10. more spelling errors. oh well, we’re all used to it from me by now.

  11. on the original thread topic of forfeiture of assets prior to convictions:

    I don’t know whether that measure was passed, but it sounds like an answer to Professor’s Turley’s concerns in his congressional testimony.

    On torture. I probably have posted 3 score times on that topic and have pushed my eloquence to its limits.

    But it’s unnatural, inhuman, and dehumanizing to inflict pain on a helpless animal much less a helpless human.

    “cheer up, this too will pass after we beat them”

    That is naive. Everyone, it is said, eventually sits down to a banquet of consequences. Our torture regime is laying out for our country such a banquet and it won’t make a wit of difference if we prevailed against one set of Islamists at one point or another. It won’t make a diffence whether we have established ourselves in military dominion over the entire Earth.

  12. It appears that somewhere along the line Americans lost the assumptive right to possess cash. Add to that the burden of proof for recovery of assets seized, especially cash, seems quite high. Cash money doesn’t always equal drugs.

    TORTURE is as far away from humanity as a society can get. Ever!

  13. betta,

    I am certain that Susan’s caffine intake doesn’t have anything to do with your argument. I agree with you that many Americans do believe torture is O.K., a fact I find disturbing. Whether many people or only a few people agree with something is important from a socialogical point of view. We need to understand why so many otherwise kindhearted decent people advocate torture. I am guessing it is why you do, because you sincerely believe it will keep our country safe and you don’t want to see our people hurt.

    But no sound argument can be made on the basis of how many or how few people agree with it. There is actual evidence that waterboarding and other U.S. practices are torture. There is also sound evidence that the use of torture by this govt. has made our population less safe, not more safe.

    There is nothing about our rights as citizens, our constitution or our way of life that would condone the use of torture. In fact our way of life morally prohibits it and our laws forbid its use.

  14. betta:

    Tell me betta is the sky falling too? Wake up, see your government for what it is, and calm down. The point of terror is to terrorize. Whe you go running around like a chicken with your head cut off, you play right into the hands of those who would subjugate you. If you need the Nazi quotations to this effect look on the blog. If you would give up your rights, paid for with blood of your fellow citizens for over two hundred years, and also give up your children’s and their children’s rights for a little perceived safety, you and your kind are nothing but cowards. We survived a civil war, two world wars, and many terrorist attacks without trashing our principles. Why is this situation so different? Don’t give me that ticking nuclear device argument again either. The threat from Japan and Hitler in 1941 was every bit as lethal.

  15. Susan:

    Wow, your third and fourth paragraph are a SSSTTTEEETTCCCCHHHH. Did you accidently double up on your caffeine this AM?

    Seriously, the world is not coming down around our ears because of this “torture” issue. Most Americans are using the common sense God gave them to understand the risk we are at in this day & age.

    Cheer up… this too will pass….after we beat them.

  16. Betta, I’M an American, and I do NOT agree with the neo-con far-right mentality that justifies torture to “keep America safe.” And unlike you, I also don’t “tune out” discussions like JT had with Keith Olbermann last night. Quite the contrary, I was closely listening to every word.

    As an American citizen who thinks we should be BETTER than those who target us, whoever they may be, I am disgusted and appalled by an administration who not only thinks torture is justified but has the gall to publicly brag about it. And I’m equally disgusted by a Congress who refuses to even address the matter, and has basically SOLD OUT the average American citizens — the VOTERS — by their refusal.

    What people who “tune out” these discussions fail to grasp is how easily THEY (which includes YOU) could be accused of being a “terrorist” or an “enemy combatant.” All it takes is for one spiteful person to point the accusing finger, even though it may not be true, and the person being accused is automatically “guilty.”

    It’s a lot like the Salem Witch Trials of 1692-93, if you bothered to think about it. Ever read about that period? It was the same thing at that time; once accused, instantly “guilty” and then executed. And there was no due process, cross-examination of witnesses, or right to counsel in those cases either. That’s the kind of insanity our Constitution and Bill of Rights was specifically written to PREVENT, yet those who justify torture would like to see these documents destroyed to preserve the illusion of “safety.” Wonder what they — and you — would do if the Constitution was no longer around when your turn came.

  17. $400,000 CASH in the home, marijuana for “personal medical use” in the home, and someone getting KILLED after breaking in?

    This is beyond belief and I think some better wait for the facts to come out. I can’t believe anyone can read the same article and say “wait a minute”, this sounds a little more than just fishy.

    On another topic, JT was on Keith Olbermann last night both of them having the typical “Bush is torturing and torture is a war crime” discussion that America has tuned out.

    The jury is still out on what is and is not torture, but I can guarantee you America universally knows it wrong to, as an example, shove needles under the fingernails of soldiers of another country that have been captured in battle.

    But I can also guarantee you that America ALMOST universally agrees that subjecting terrorists that target civilians, waiting for a chance to kill thousands if not hundreds of thousands of American civilians, to discomfort and even a round of waterboarding as long as it is restricted to a handful of special situations is perfectly fine.

    As usual, the left is out of sync with our rights, our constitution, our belief in defending our way of life, etc. etc. etc.

  18. This is disturbing to ME, but I doubt that this case will convince those who have no problem with mandatory government asset freezing orders. The only time they’ll be concerned or upset is if and when THEIR assets are frozen by governmental order for some unknown reason. By then, of course, it will be too late for them to complain, and their assets will be gone.

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