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On the Newsstand: What Happens to Seized Drug Money?

As part of the War on Drugs US federal and local authorities seize cash made from drug trafficking. The practice takes away an incentive for smuggling, and gives the agents an incentive to catch traffickers. The guideline for how that money can be spent, according to most local laws, is the vague standard of "for law-enforcement purposes."

This week's Economist itemized what can be considered law enforcement for spending purposes. Seized assets have been used for the following:

  • One Texas county used it on a margarita machine.
  • A Texas district attorney took his whole staff to Hawaii for a training seminar.
  • Another Texan DA spent thousands of dollars on his re-election campaign.
  • In Indiana money goes to a general school fund. (A good idea.)
  • A Georgia sheriff bought a $90,000 sports car, used to advertise an anti-drug program. (Don't tell the kids drugs paid for the car!)

Unfortunately, many state laws give authorities wide discretion to seize assets even without any verdict. And with such an incentive to get the restriction-free money, sometimes they get it wrong. Does it matter to you what happens to drug money?


Join The Conversation
Amybbb Amybbb 8 years
That is so rediculus. seized drug money shouldn't go to freakin sports cars. that is like stealing. especally if the cops or the supreme court can't prove where the money is from. evwen if they can prove it, it should go to somehing like churches of poor people. or even back to the druggies family. that is so rediculus. i swear if i meet the gorgia sheriff i will give him a peice of my mind.
MartiniLush MartiniLush 9 years
Oh, and Jill, to clarify, they don't just get "dibs" on what they confiscate. The forfeiture proceedings are part of the court case and the judge (or jury, depending) need to grant the forfeiture of the items. I have seen many cases where the judge will refuse to grant an order of forfeiture for various reasons. It isn't like they are just seizing this stuff and then get to keep whatever they want.
MartiniLush MartiniLush 9 years
Torg - I have tons of these stories, you wouldn't believe some of the things that go on...or then again, you probably would! LOL!
True-Song True-Song 9 years
That is a really funny story about the car. What a lucky guy.
wildflwerbeauti wildflwerbeauti 9 years
I think it needs to go into better, cheaper rehab or treatment for the people their arresting after they get out... :) You'd be surprised how much your police station doest need your money.. Have u ever seen a rickety broken down police car or an officer with torn uniforms on? Nope, b/c they get VERY well funded by the gov. Hint: y u pay taxes... They need to stop taking our money for their own greedy immature reasons! I love the School idea! Although, I'm from IN & If thats true we have quite a few schools who are closing down or cutting most, if not all, xtra I dont know what to say about that one! :?
supercharger5150 supercharger5150 9 years
I love how the first 3 faux-pas are in texas.......
MartiniLush MartiniLush 9 years
Jillness, I will tell you (and all the other Sugars!) a hilarious story about a drug seizure that happened when I worked at DOJ. I won't tell you where, but a district seized a sweet car from a dealer and it was forfeited in course of the court proceedings. Well, the Marshalls auctioned off the car and the guy was driving home and the car konked out and died on the way. He was justifiably pissed and called up AAA and had the car towed to his mechanic. In the course of figuring out what was wrong with the car, the mechanic realized that it was about $500,000 stuffed in the gas tank!!! Well, the feds found out and tried to get the loot - the federal judge basically said "NO WAY - If you're too stupid to search the car completely, you don't deserve it. You sold the car at auction, this guy bought it and it and everything in it is his!" I have no idea if he could even use the money (I mean it was in a gas tank for quite a while), but we all got a laugh out of it.
Jillness Jillness 9 years
I can't believe they get to get "dibs" on what they confiscate! Isn't this a bit of a conflict of interest? I thought they auctioned off items that they confiscated? My DARE officer in my school got busted for stealing the drugs he confiscated from local dealers and using it. He was a complete addition to being a crooked, drug addicted cop that would harass teens.
ShePirate2010 ShePirate2010 9 years
MissTiffany MissTiffany 9 years
The money should go back into the community: for drug prevention and education programs, etc. Using it for re-election campaigns and sports cars is ridiculous!
True-Song True-Song 9 years
I just heard a piece on NPR about how some counties would not be able to operate at all without drug money in their budget.
Bksuga Bksuga 9 years
You know martinilush your probley right, the majority probley does go to training and so on, I just hate to hear that someone takes advantage of money that could go to something more worthy ya know? A 90,000 car crazy!!!
lovelie lovelie 9 years
The district that I work (county level) for has strict policy as to where the fruits of seizures end up. Mostly, it ends up disbursed throughout the county (education systems like the DARE program, equipment for local police forces). I have never heard of it going directly to the police force or to one individual, at least not since I've worked there. I do know that the county I work for has had problems in the past with this and has since implemented a strict accountability process which drug seizures must go through.
MartiniLush MartiniLush 9 years
Honestly, Jennisuga, there are federal statutes that would prohibit stuff like the election campaign fund listed above (which is just driving me insane right now!!!) from happening, if the funds were federally gotten. They are to be used for law enforcement purposes. Torgelson has it right as far as federal forfeitures go, most of the stuff goes for training, equiptment and community education inititatives. I am not sure about LOCAL seizures and forfeitures, however, they have their own rules/laws.
missyd missyd 9 years
they waste it
Bksuga Bksuga 9 years
I think that this should be a law!!! the money should be used for educational or community needs or be donated. I strongly belive that by letting this money be used to the police's standard just plain wrong. what gives them the right to use that money for themselves!!!????
em113 em113 9 years
i have several problems with the war on drugs which I won't go into here, but yes, obviously i have a problem with the misuse of money listed in this article (with the exception of the education fund).
True-Song True-Song 9 years
Some of those examples don't seem like a good use, but doesn't a majority of it go to regular law enforcement stuff? (Cars, handcuffs, etc)
MartiniLush MartiniLush 9 years
I used to work for DOJ and dealt with the Federal end of asset forfeiture. These laws have been on the books nearly from the founding of our country (they started out with the admiralty laws to sieze pirate contraband). I helped run the "sharing" program with state and local law enforcement agencies for federal seizures (if we had assistance from state or local law enforcement during an investigation, they were entitled to a portion of the money seized and forfeited by the court during the legal process or to items that were forfeited). I can tell you that the vast majority of the time, these items go back to the law enforcement agencies for good uses to help the community! (Like the Indiana example)
bluepuppybites bluepuppybites 9 years
I think the money should go back to help the community.
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