Arlington, VA — Charles Clarke, a 24-year-old college student had $11,000 seized by the
federal government at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky airport in 2014. Without cause and without conviction of a crime, the Obama Administration stole Clarke’s life savings right before he was scheduled to board a flight, and they have kept his money for over a year. Now Charles had teamed up with the Institute for Justice, which has successfully represented property owners as part of its initiative to end civil forfeiture nationwide, to fight back in federal court.
“I saved up the money to use for living expenses and for future savings, and now it is gone,” said Charles Clarke. “After the money was seized, it was very hard for me to make ends meet. I had to borrow money from family, and I was embarrassed. No one should have to go through the nightmare I went through simply because they choose to carry their hard-earned cash.”
Now, through an IJ lawsuit, Attorney Darpana Sheth has now announced that “The United States government has agreed to give Charles Clarke back every penny of the $11,000 it seized from him at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in February 2014, plus interest. Charles is very pleased that he will get his life savings back and that the whole ordeal is now behind him.”
“Civil forfeiture is wrong. It allows law enforcement to seize and keep property without ever charging someone with a crime. Even worse, it encourages law enforcement to seize as much money and property as possible by allowing agencies to keep the proceeds for themselves. The Institute for Justice will continue to lead the fight to abolish civil forfeiture and end this perverse financial incentive.”
Under an Obama Administration federal program called equitable sharing, state and local police receive up to 80 percent of forfeiture proceeds in exchange for referring seized property to federal authorities. In 2014 alone, the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky airport police received over $530,000 in federal forfeiture funds, the third-highest total in the state.[i] Under this program, 13 different law enforcement agencies from Kentucky and Ohio are seeking their cut of Charles’ money, even though 11 of those agencies were not involved in the seizure. Although earlier this year the Justice Department curtailed one of the most egregious aspects of equitable sharing after widespread criticism,[ii] Charles’ case and the behavior of law enforcement demonstrates why the policy changes are insufficient to stem the problem.
Unlike criminal forfeiture, where the government takes someone’s property only after he or she has been convicted of a crime, police and prosecutors can use civil forfeiture to take the cash, cars and homes of people without ever having to convict or even charge the owner with any wrongdoing. This is because civil forfeiture cases technically are filed against the property rather than its owner, leading to unusual names such as United States v. $11,000 in United States Currency.