The way the Drug Enforcement Administration seizes cash and other assets may pose a risk to civil liberties, the Justice Department’s internal watchdog said yesterday, reports the Los Angeles Times. The DOJ inspector general determined that the agency does not measure or track how its asset seizure activities advance criminal investigations. Over the last decade, more than $28 billion has been seized through the department’s asset forfeiture program. That effort and similar ones in states have generated intense controversy, with critics contending that many seizures are unfair because some who lose their assets are never charged with crimes.
Law enforcement officials claim that seizing property and cash is a key tool in disrupting criminal organizations and compensating the victims of crimes. The new report examined 100 cases in which DEA seized cash. Eighty-five of the cases involved interdiction at transportation hubs, such as airports or parcel centers. Nearly 80 of those seizures resulted from the direct observation of agents or local police. Of the 100 cases, DEA could verify that only 44 advanced ongoing investigations, led to a new investigation, or resulted in an arrest or prosecution. “When seizure and administrative forfeitures do not ultimately advance an investigation or prosecution, law enforcement creates the appearance, and risks the reality, that it is more interested in seizing and forfeiting cash than advancing an investigation or prosecution,” the report said.