Aaron Swartz's Prosecutors Employ Outrageous Bullying Tactics as Standard Operating Procedure
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“I’ve found…I’m responsible for the action of people I don’t even know, I’ve never even met, and for the most part I have no control over them,” Mr. Caswell told WBUR Boston. “And when they do something wrong, the government wants to steal my property for the actions of those people, which to me makes absolutely no sense. It’s more like we’re in Russia or Venezuela or something.”
According to the sworn testimony of a DEA agent operating out of Boston, it was his job to comb through news stories for properties that might be subject to forfeiture. When he finds a likely candidate, he goes to the Registry of Deeds, determines the value of the property in question, and refers it to the U.S. attorney for seizure. It is DEA policy to reject anything with less than $50,000 equity.
In other cases, that DEA agent testified, the property is brought to his attention by local police departments. He could not recall whether Mr. Caswell’s case was brought by local authorities or picked by his own research. Christina DiIorio-Sterling, a spokesperson for Ms. Ortiz’s office, maintained in an interview that local police brought the case to DEA. But if Tewksbury’s Finest suspected crime was occurring on specific property, why not initiate an investigation themselves? Why simply hand a case like that over to the feds?
Through a policy known as equitable sharing, “the federal government has the discretion to dispense 80%” of the proceeds of liquidated seized assets “with the local authorities [that] cooperate,” Larry Salzman—attorney for Mr. Caswell—told WhoWhatWhy in an interview. He maintains this provision creates a perverse incentive to initiate such proceedings, even when the investigating authorities have no reason to suspect criminal wrongdoing. “It’s obvious it turns the American idea of innocent until proven guilty on its head.”
When asked about the possibility of an 80% haul that Tewksbury PD stood to gain from the liquidation of Mr. Caswell’s property, Ms. Sterling responded that such processes are referred all the way up through the Department of Justice (DOJ), before any arrangement with local authorities is negotiated: “The equitable sharing process is a lengthy one.”
Mr. Caswell’s family-owned and -operated property was worth approximately $1.5 million with no mortgage—making it a perfect target. Without a bank involved, the likelihood of the Caswells’ mounting a drawn-out legal defense was miniscule. Through a spokeswoman, Ms. Ortiz’s office released a statement at the time of trial on why they were choosing to pursue Mr. Caswell:
“The government believed that this was an important case…because of the deterrent message it sends to others who may turn a blind eye to crime occurring at their place of business.”
Mr. Salzman doesn’t buy the message of deterrence. He asserts that just up the street, a Motel 6, Walmart and Home Depot all operate with similar—in many cases higher—rates of drug crimes on their properties, referencing numbers obtained from the Tewksbury Police Department. An investigation by the Lowell Sun confirms this:
A review of Police Department arrest logs from 2007 through 2012 shows that despite a relatively high number of drug arrests at the Motel Caswell property in recent years, more suspects have been busted on drug-related charges at nearby addresses.
During the examined six-year time period, police made 19 drug arrests at the Motel Caswell at 450 Main St., five fewer than at the property where Walmart is located at 333 Main St. Twenty-six drug arrests were made at each of the properties located at 85 Main St. [Home Depot & Applebees] and 95 Main St. [Motel 6 & IHOP]