“This is one of the more enjoyable aspects of a big prosecution, taking ill-gotten gains,” said U.S. Attorney Paul McNulty of the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., as he annunced that more than $6 million had been forfeited to the federal government in one case. The Washington Post reports that the federal government paid $505,873 to Fairfax County, Va., and $72,267 to Arlington County, Va., for those jurisdictions’ roles in the investigation of a lawyer sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2003 for a massive labor fraud scheme that targeted immigrants. More than $4.6 million of the seized funds and assets has gone to victim restitution.
Asset forfeiture is big business. Nationally, the Justice Department seized $535 million in forfeitures in fiscal year 2004. Marvin Miller, defense attorney in the Virginia case, criticized the forfeiture process as a “cash cow, and cash cows shouldn’t be what’s driving law enforcement. All of these funds are slushing back into law enforcement across America. I don’t think anyone is monitoring where the money goes.” Local prosecutor Elliot Casey of northern Virginia said that money seized by the federal government has helped local police buy everything from police cars to surveillance equipment and has funded important training programs for officers. Asset forfeitures in the federal Eastern District of Virginia were about $11.6 million for the fiscal year that ended last Friday — an all-time high. “In every single case, whether it be fraud, drugs or terrorism, we always look at the possibility of not only convicting a defendant but also grabbing assets, the ill-gotten gains made from the criminal activity,” McNulty said.