In the last three years, federal agents in Texas have contributed to some of the largest forfeiture cases in U.S. law enforcement history – seizing Caribbean bank accounts, stud racehorses, and luxury condos allegedly linked to organized crime activity by drug dealers, Ponzi schemers, and money launderers, reports the Houston Chronicle. A heavy veil of secrecy hangs over the details of most federal forfeiture cases, the vast majority of which were made based on investigations that are not disclosed in public records or even reviewed in federal court.
One of the biggest grabs involved Mexican cartel leader Osiel Cardenas Guillen. In 2010, Houston-based prosecutors struck a plea deal with the 42-year-old former car thief who long led Mexico’s powerful Gulf Cartel. Cardenas agreed to hand over $50 million in assets as part of his sentencing. The federal government tends to keep forfeiture actions secret for legal and strategic reasons, says Houston U.S. Attorney Ken Magidson and other current and former federal agents. These include protecting confidential witnesses and sources, ensuring property linked to crimes is preserved before public criminal actions and giving investigators necessary court authorization to trace and freeze assets of criminals, both foreign and domestic.