Experts Tout More Aggressive Asset Forfeiture


In a New York Times op-ed, two experts write that the asset forfeiture being pursued in the case of Ponzi schemer Bernard Madoff is the exception, not the rule, in criminal cases. “Lawbreakers are rarely forced to give up the proceeds of their crimes,” write Charles A. Intriago, a former prosecutor who publishes a website on asset forfeiture, and Robert A. Butterworth, a former Florida attorney general. They write, “Most people would assume…the government routinely seizes the assets of criminals and returns them to victims. After all, criminals should not have ill-gotten houses, cars and yachts waiting for them when they finish their sentences. But the reality is that the government's focus on seizing Mr. Madoff's assets for restitution is unusual.”

They write that criminals amass hundreds of billions of dollars in cash and goods from illegal activities each year. Various laws give government the authority to seize those ill-gotten assets, but the Department of Justice “has to overcome a culture in which prosecutors focus on the arrest and conviction of individuals to the exclusion of the broader targets, entire criminal organizations, Intriago and Butterworth say. “For too long government has been unwilling to take back the wealth that criminals have stolen from taxpayers,” they write. “We can no longer afford to ignore the opportunities offered by our under-enforced asset forfeiture laws.”

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