Under US civil forfeiture law enforcement agencies may seize monies, cars and even homes from individuals who have been accused of committing a crime and said individuals must then be able to prove their innocence in order to get that property back.
This is exactly what happened in the spring when the FBI raided a series of properties in and around Portland, Maine. They walked away with $849,000 worth of bank funds, cash and luxury watches, all of which are alleged to have been obtained through an illegal gambling enterprise.
Money was pulled from safety deposit boxes, home safes, filing cabinets and desk drawers from four individuals. A legal notice of forfeiture was posted by the FBI on July 6.
The Bangor Daily News questioned the controversial move by law enforcement, all of which appears to be legal, albeit frightening:
The money and watches were seized from area landlord Stephen Mardigan, his girlfriend Patricia Nixon, as well as local men Steven DePaolo and William Flynn. But it is not clear that any of the four have been charged with a crime.
The notice of seizure states the goods were taken “for violation of federal law” and cites a legal provision that allows for the seizure of property used in running illegal gambling businesses. But no criminal cases or indictments against any of the four could be found in the U.S. District Court in Portland or in the Cumberland County Superior Court. They could not be reached for comment.
To be clear, the federal indictments are sealed and remain so until which time the accused are taken into custody. None of the accused in this case have been arrested.
Darpana Sheth, a senior attorney with the Institute for Justice, a Washington D.C.-based public interest law firm, told the Bangor Daily News that civil forfeiture “completely reverses the presumption of innocence”.
“No one in America should lose their property without being convicted of a crime,” Sheth says.
The FBI declined to comment when approached by the paper, citing an ongoing investigation, and referred questions to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Chapman.
Civil suits against 30 properties owned by Madigan were filed the same day of the raids. Most of the funds seized also belonged to Madigan.
Each of the individuals had an opportunity to contest the forfeiture within 30 days. It is unclear whether that occurred. If not, the FBI gets to keep the property.
“This [is the] upside-down world of civil forfeiture,” Sheth said.
- Jagajeet Chiba, Gambling911.com