Cops Seize College Kid's Savings for No Reason: 5 Outrageous Cases of Asset Forfeiture
Asset forfeiture is a police procedure whereby local police departments can confiscate the property of Americans if they can make a case that the property is essential to criminal activity. You would think such power would be limited to items such as firearms or other dangerous materials, but police departments often abuse this power to grab all sorts of things — even from people who are never charged with a crime. Here are five crazy cases.
1. Seizing the Life Savings Of a 24-Year-Old: In 2014, a college student named Charles Clarke was traveling through Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky airport when he was accused of having his bag smell like marijuana. Police then went on to seize the $11,000 found within it, accusing him of having done a drug deal to get the money. 13 different departments are now trying to gain control of the money seized from Clarke, although he was never convicted of a crime (there were no drugs in his bag).
2. Confiscating $75,000 From A Budding Restauranteur: A 55-year old Chinese American from Georgia was traveling in Alabama when police seized $75,000 he had raised from his relatives to open a new Chinese restaurant. After ten months of legal battles, he was able to get the money back, but he was set back by his own legal fees.
3. Taking Everything From A Cancer Patient: Police in Michigan busted into Thomas Williams’ home, accusing him of dealing marijuana -- he wasn’t, but as a cancer patient, he was legally allowed to cultivate his own. Police took $11,000, his car, his shotgun, and other belongings and a year later he was still fighting to get them back.
4. Snatch And Grab From Poker Players: Two poker players driving in Iowa had $100,000 taken from them by Iowa police. The encounter with police led to one indictment for possessing drug paraphernalia. There was no hard and fast evidence that the money seized was at all related to any drug crime.
5. Decimating A Nail Salon Owner’s Life Savings: Vu Do, a man who owns two nail salons in New York City, had $44,000, his life savings, taken from him by the Drug Enforcement Agency while he was at JFK Airport. He had planned to take the money to California to help his family. He didn’t receive even a citation before having his money taken from him, which makes the government’s case that he may have been drug dealing all the more bizarre.
Abuses have become common enough to where two states have banned civil asset forfeiture altogether while the federal government has started to limit its own use of the procedure.