Path: weeds!utopia!hacktic!sun4nl!mcsun!uunet!!!!palmer
From: (Chris Palmer)
Newsgroups: alt.drugs
Subject: REPOST: The Pittsburgh Press "Presumed Guilty" series
Date: 18 Aug 93 18:30:10 EST
Organization: Middlesex Community College
Lines: 1582

The Pittsburgh Press, Sunday, August 11, 1991

			P R E S U M E D     G U I L T Y
		      The law's Victims in the War on Drugs

It's a strange twist of justice in the land of freedom. A law designed
to give cops the right to confiscate and keep the luxurious possessions
of major drug dealers mostly ensnares the modest homes, cars and cash
of ordinary, law-abiding people. They step off a plane or answer their
front door and suddenly lose everything they've worked for. They are
not arrested or tried for any crime. But there is punishment, and it's

This six-day series chronicles a frightening turn in the war on drugs.
Ten months of research across the country reveals that seizure and
forfeiture, the legal weapons meant to eradicate the enemy, have done
enormous collateral damage to the innocent. The reporters reviewed
25,000 seizures made by the Drug Enforcement Administration. They
interviewed 1,600 prosecutors, defense lawyers, cops, federal agents,
and victims. They examined court documents from 510 cases. What they
found defines a new standard of justice in America: You are presumed

The main article appeared next to the above, also on the front page,
and later pages.

	Government seizures victimize innocent

By Andrew Schneider
and Mary Pat Flaherty

Part One: The overview

February 27, 1991.

Willie Jones, a second-generation nursery man in his family's Nashville
business, bundles up money from last year's projects and heads off to buy
flowers and shrubs in Houston. He makes this trip twice a year using cash,
which the small growers prefer.

But this time, as he waits at the American Airlines gate in Nashville
Metro Airport, he's flanked by two police officers who escort him into a
small office, search him and seize the $9,600 he's carrying. A ticket
agent had alerted the officers that a large black man had paid for his
ticket in bills, unusual these days. Because of the cash,  and the fact
that he fit a "profile" of what drug dealers supposedly look like, they
believed he was buying or selling drugs.

He's free to go, he's told. But they keep his money -- his livelihood --
and give him a receipt in its place.

No evidence of wrongdoing was ever produced. No charges were ever filed.
As far as anyone knows, Willie Jones neither uses drugs, nor buys or sells
them. He is a gardening contractor who bought an airplane ticket. Who lost
his hard-earned money to the cops. And can't get it back.

That same day, an ocean away in Hawaii, federal drug agents arrive at the
Maui home of retirees Joseph and Frances Lopes and claim it for the U.S.

For 49 years, Lopes worked on a sugar plantation, living in its camp
housing before buying a modest home for himself, his wife, and their adult,
mentally disturbed son, Thomas.

For a while, Thomas grew marijuana in the back yard -- and threatened to
kill himself every time his parents tried to cut it down. In 1987, the
police caught Thomas, then 28. He pleaded guilty, got probation for his
first offense and was ordered to see a psychologist once a week. He has,
and never again has grown dope or been arrested. The family thought this
episode was behind them.

But earlier this year, a detective scouring old arrest records for
forfeiture opportunities realized the Lopes' house could be taken away
because they had admitted they knew about the marijuana.

The police department stands to make a bundle. If the house is sold, the
police get the proceeds.

Jones and the Lopes family are among the thousands of Americans each year
victimized by the federal seizure law -- a law meant to curb drugs by
causing financial hardship to dealers.

A 10-month study by The Pittsburgh Press shows the law has run amok. In
their zeal to curb drugs and sometimes fill their coffers with the proceeds
of what they take, local cops, federal agents and the courts have curbed
innocent Americans' civil rights.  From Maine to Hawaii, people who are
never charged with a crime had cars, boats, money and homes taken away.

In fact, 80 percent of the people who lost property to the federal
government were never charged. And most of the seized items weren't the
luxurious playthings of drug barons, but modest homes and simple cars and
hard-earned savings of ordinary people.

But those goods generated $2 billion for the police departments that took

The owners' only crimes in many of these cases: They "looked" like drug
dealers. They were black, Hispanic or flashily dressed.

Others, like the Lopeses, have been connected to a crime by circumstances
beyond their control.

Says Eric Sterling, who helped write the law a decade ago as a lawyer on
a congressional committee: "The innocent-until-proven-guilty concept is
gone out the window."

The law: Guilt doesn't matter

Rooted in English common law, forfeiture has surfaced just twice in the
United States since colonial times.

In 1862, Congress permitted the president to seize estates of Confederate
soldiers. Then, in 1970, it resurrected forfeiture for the civil war on
drugs with the passage of racketeering laws that targeted the assets of

In 1984 however, the nature of the law was radically changed to allow
government to take possession without first charging, let alone convicting
the owner. That was done in an effort to make it easier to strike at the
heart of the major drug dealers. Cops knew that drug dealers consider
prison time an inevitable cost of doing business. It rarely deters them.
Profits and playthings, though, are their passions. Losing them hurts.

And there was a bonus in the law. the proceeds would flow back to law
enforcement to finace more investigations. It was to be the ultimate poetic
justice, with criminals financing their own undoing.

But eliminating the necessity of charging or proving a crime has moved
most of the action to civil court, where the government accuses the item
-- not the owner -- of being tainted by a crime.

This oddity has court dockets looking like purchase orders:  United States
of America vs. 9.6 acres of land and lake; U.S. vs. 667 bottles of wine.
But it's more than just a labeling change. Because money and property are
at stake instead of life and liberty, the constitutional safeguards in
criminal proceedings do not apply.

The result is that "jury trials can be refused; illegal searches condoned;
rules of evidence ignored," says Louisville, Ky.  defense lawyer Donald
Heavrin. The "frenzied quest for cash," he says, is "destroying the
judicial system."

Every crime package passed since 1984 has expanded the uses of forfeiture,
and now there are more than 100 statutes in place at the state and federal
level. Not just for drug cases anymore, forfeiture covers the likes of
money laundering, fraud, gambling, importing tainted meats and carrying
intoxicants onto Indian land.

The White House, Justice Department and Drug Enforcement Administration
say they've made the most of the expanded law in getting the big-time
criminals, and they boast of seizing mansions, planes and millions in
cash. But the Pittsburgh Press in just 10 months was able to document 510
current cases that involved innocent people -- or those possesing a very
small amount of drugs -- who lost their possesions.

And DEA's own database contadicts the official line. It showed that
big-ticket items -- valued at  more than $50,000 -- were only 17 percent
of the total 25,297 items seized by DEA during the 18 months that ended
last December.

"If you want to use that 'war on drugs' analogy, the forfeiture is like
giving the troops permission to loot," says Thomas Lorenzi, president-elect
of the Louisiana Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

The near-obsession with forfeiture continues without any proof that it
curbs drug crime -- its original target.

"The reality is, it's very difficult to tell what the impact of drug
seizure is," says Stanley Morris, deputy director of the federal drug
czar's ofice.

Police forces keep the take

The "loot" that's coming back to police forces all over tha nation has
redefined law-enforcement success. It now has a dollar sign in front of

For nearly eighteen months, undercover Arizona State Troopers worked as
drug couriers driving nearly 13 tons of marijuana from the Mexican border
to stash houses around Tucson. They hoped to catch the Mexican suppliers
and distributors on the American side before the dope got on the streets.

But they overestimated their ability to control the distribution. Almost
every ounce was sold the minute they dropped it at the houses.

Even though the troopers were responsible for tons of drugs getting loose
in Tucson, the man who supervised the setup still believes it was
worthwhile. It was "a success from a cost-benefit standpoint," says former
assistant attorney-general John Davis. His reasoning: It netted 20 arrests
and at least $3 million for the state forfeiture fund.

"That kind of thinking is what frightens me," says Steve Sherick. a Tucson
attorney. "The government's thirst for dollars is overcoming any long-range
view of what it is supposed to be doing, which is fighting crime."

George Terwilliger III, associate deputy attorney general in charge of
the U.S. Justice Department's program emphasizes that forfeiture does
fight crime, and "we're not at all apologetic about the fact that we do
benefit (financially) from it."

In fact, Terwilliger wrote about how the forfeiture program financially
benefits police departments in the 1991 Police Buyer's Guide of Police
Chief Magazine.

Between 1986 and 1990, the U.S. Justice Department generated $1.5 billion
from forfeiture and estimates that it will take in $500 million this year,
five times the amount it collected in 1986.

District attorney's offices throughout Pennsylvania handled $4.5 million
in forfeitures last year; Allegheny County (ED: Pgh is in Allegheny
County), $218,000, and the city of Pittsburgh, $191,000 -- up from $9,000
four years ago.

Forfeiture pads the smallest towns coffers. In Lexana, Kan, a Kansas City
suburb of 29,000, "we've got about $250,000 moving in court right now,"
says narcotice detective Don Crohn.

Despite the huge amounts flowing to police departments, the are few public
accounting procedures. Police who get a cut of the federal forfeiture
funds must sign a form saying merely the will use it for "law enforcement

To Philadelphia police that meant new air conditioning. In Warren County,
N.J., it meant use of a forfeited yellow Corvette for the chief assistant

{At this point nt the article there is a picture of three people  in an
empty apartment, with the following caption:

Judy Mulford, 31, and her 13-year old twins, Chris, left, and Jason, are
down to essentials in their Lake Park, Fla., home, which the government
took in 1989 after claiming her husband, Joseph, stored cocaine there.
Neither parent has been criminally charge, but in April a forfeiture jury
said Mrs. Mulford must forfeit the house she bought herself with an
insurance settlement. The Mulfords have divorced, and she has sold most
of her belongings to cover legal bills. She's asked for a new trial and
lives in the near-empty house pending a decision. }

'Looking' like a criminal

Ethel Hylton of New York City has yet to regain her financial independence
after losing $39,110 in a search nearly three years ago in Hobby Airport
in Houston.

Shortly after she arrived from New York, a Houston officer and Drug
Enforcement Administration agent stopped the 46-year-old woman in the
baggage area and told her she was under arrest because a drug dog had
scratched at her luggage. The dog wasn't with them, and when Miss Hylton
asked to see it, the officers refused to bring it out.

The agents searched her bags, and ordered a strip search of Miss Hylton,
but found no contraband.

In her purse they found the cash Miss Hylton carried because she planned
to buy a house to escape the New York winters which exasperated her
diabetes. It was the settlement from an insurance claim, and her life's
savings, gathered through more than 20 years of work as a hotel housekeeper
and hospital night janitor.

The police seized all but $10 of the cash and sent Miss Hylton on her way,
keeping the money because of its alleged drug connection.  But they never
charged her with a crime.

The Pittsburgh Press verified her jobs, reviewed her bank statements and
substantiated her claim she had $18,000 from an insurance settlement. It
also found no criminal record for her in New York City.

With the mix of outrage and resignation voiced by other victims of
searches, she says: "The money they took was mine. I'm allowed to have
it. I earned it."

Miss Hylton bacame a U.S. citizen six years ago. She asks, "Why did they
stop me? Is it bacause I'm black or because I'm Jamaican?"

Probably, both -- although Houston police haven't said.

Drug teams interviewed in dozens of airports, train stations and bus
terminals and along other major highways repeatedly said they didn't stop
travellers based on race. But a Pittsburgh Press examination of 121
travellers' cases in which police found no dope, made no arrest, but seized
money anyway showed that 77 percent of the people stopped were black,
Hispanc, or Asian.

In April, 1989, deputies from Jefferson Davis Parish, Louisiana, seized
$23,000 from Johnny Sotello, a Mexican-American whose truck overheated on
a highway.

They offered help, he accepted. They asked to search his truch. He agreed.
They asked if he was carrying cash. He said he was because he was scouting
heavy equipment auctions.

They then pulled a door panel from the truck, said the space behind it
could have hidden drugs, and seized the money and the truck, court records
show. Police did not arrest Sotello but told him he would have to go to
court to recover his property.

Sotello sent auctioneer's receipts to police which showed he was a licensed
buyer. the sherriff offered to settle the case, and with his legal bills
mounting after two years, Sotello accepted. In a deal cut last March, he
got his truck, but only half his money. The cops kept $11,500.

"Ii was more afraid of the banks than anything -- that's one reason I
carry cash," says Sotello. "But a lot of places won't take checks, only
cash, or cashier's checks for the exact amount. I never heard of anybody
saying you couldn't carry cash."

Affadavits show the same deputy who stopped Sotello routinely stopped the
cars or black and Hispanic drivers, exacting "donations" from some.

After another of the deputy's stops, two black men from Atlanta handed
over $1,000 for a "drug fund" after being detained for hours, according
to a hand-written receipt reviewed by the Pittsburgh Press.

The driver got a ticket for "following to (sic) close." Back home, they
got a lawyer.

Their attorney, in a letter to the Sherriff's department, said deputies
had made the men "fear for their safety, and in direct exploitation of
that fear a purported donation of $1000 was extracted..."

If they "were kind enough to give the money to the sherriff's office,"
the letter said, "then you can be kind enough to give it back." If they
gave the money "under other circumstances, then give the money back so we
can avoid litigation."

Six days later, the sherrif's department mailed the men a $1,000 check.

Last year, the 72 deputies of Jefferson Davis Parish led the state in
forfeitures, gatering $1 million -- more than their colleagues in New
Orleans, a city 17 times larger than the parish.

Like most states, Louisiana returns the money to law enforcement agencies,
but it has one of the more unusual distributions: 60 percent goes to the
police bringing a case, 20 percent to the district attorney's office
prosecuting it and 20 percent to the court fund of the judge signing the
forfeiture order.

"The highway stops aren't much different from a smash-and-grab ring," says
Lorenzi, of the Louisiana Defense Lawyers Association.

Paying for your innocence

The Justice Department's Terwilliger says that in some cases "dumb
judgement" may occasionally cause problems, but he believes there is an
adequate solution. "That's why we have courts."

But the notion that courts are a safeguard for citizens wrongly accused
"is way off," says Tjomas Kerner, a forfeiture lawyer in Boston. "Compared
to forfeiture, David and Goliath was a fair fight."

Starting from the moment that the government serves notice that it intends
to take an item, until any court challenge is completed, "the government
gets all the breaks," says Kerner.

The government need only show probable cause for a seizure, a standard no
greater than what is needed to get a search warrant. The lower standard
means the government can take a home without any more evidence than it
normally needs to take a look inside.

Clients who challenge the government, says attorney Edward Hinson of
Charlotte, N.C., "have the choice of fighting the full resources of the
U.S. treasury or caving in."

Barry Colin caved in.

Kolin watched Portland, Ore., police padlock the doors of Harvey's, his
bar and restaurant for bookmaking on March 2.

Earlier that day, eight police officers and Amy Holmes Hehn, the Multnomah
County deputy district attorney, had swept into the bar, shooed out
waitresses and customers and arrested Mike Kolin, Barry's brother and
bartender, on suspicion of bookmaking.

Nothing in the police documents mentioned Barry Kolin, and so the
40-year-old was stunned when authorities took his business, saying they
believe he knew about the betting. He denied it.

Hehn concedes she did not have the evidence to press a criminal case
against Barry Kolin, "so we seized the business civilly."

During a recess in a hearing on the seizures weeks later, "the deputy DA
says if I paid them $30,000 I could open up again," Kolin recalls. When
the deal dropped to $10,000, Kolin took it.

Kolin's lawyer, Jenny Cooke, calls the seizure "extortion." She says:
"There is no difference between what the police did to Barry Kolin or what
Al Capone did in Chicago when he walked in and said, 'This is a nice little
bar and it's mine.' the only difference is today they call this civil

Minor crimes, major penalties

Forfeiture's tremendous clout helps make it "one of the most effective
tools that we have," says Terwilliger.

The clout, though, puts property owners at risk of losing more under
forfeiture that they would in a criminal case under the same circumstances.

Criminal charges in federal and many state courts carry maximum sentences.
But there's no dollar cap on forfeiture, leaving citizens open to
punishment that far exceeds the crime.

Robert Brewer of Irwin, Idaho, is dying of prostate cancer, and uses
marijuana to ease the pain and nausea that comes with radiation treatments.

Last Oct. 10, a dozen deputies and Idaho tax agents walked into the
Brewer's living room with guns drawn and said they had a warrant to search.

The Brewers, Robert, 61, and Bonita, 44, both retired from the Postal
Service, moved from Kansas City, Mo., to the tranquil, wooded valley of
Irwin in 1989. Six months later, he was diagnosed.

According to police reports, and informant told authorities Brewer ran a
major marijuana operation.

The drug SWAT team found eight plants in the basement under a grow light
and a half-pound of marijuana. The Brewers were charged with two felony
narcotics counts and two charges for failing to buy state tax stamps for
the dope.

"I didn't like the idea of the marijuana, but it was the only thing that
controlled his pain," Mrs. Brewer says.

The government seized the couples five-year-old Ford van that allowed him
to lie down during his twice-a-month trips for cancer treatment at a Salt
Lake City hospital, 270 miles away.

Now they must go by car.

"That's a long painful ride for him. His testicles would sometimes swell
up to the size of cantaloupes, and he had to lie down because of the pain.
He needed that van, and the government took it," Mrs. Brewer says.

"It looks like the government can punish people any way it sees fit."

The Brewers know nothing about the informant who turned them in, but
informants play a big role in forfeiture. Many of them are paid, targeting
property in return for a cut of anything that is taken.

The Justice Department's asset forfeiture fund paid $24 million to
informants in 1990 and has $22 million allocated this year.

Private citizens who snitch for a fee are everywhere. Some airline counter
clerks receive cash awards for alerting drug agents to "suspicious"
travellers. The practice netted Melissa Furtner, a Continental Airlines
clerk in Denver, at least $5,800 between 1989 and 1990, photocopies of
checks show.

Increased surveillance, recruitment of citizen-cops, and expansion of
forfeiture sweeps are all part of a take-now, litigate-later syndrome that
builds prosecutors careers, says a former federal prosecutor.

"Federal law enforcement people are the most ambitious I've ever met, and
to get ahead they need visible results. Visible results are convictions,
and, now, forfeitures," says Don Lewis of Meadville, Crawford County. (ED:
a Pa county north of Pgn by two counties.)

Lewis spent 17 years as a prosecutor, serving as an assistant U.S. attorney
in Tampa as recently as 1988. He left the Tampa job -- and became a defense
lawyer -- when "I found myself tempted to do things I wouldn't have thought
about doing years ago."

Terwilliger insists U.S. attorneys would never be evaluated on "something
as unprofessional as dollars."

Which is not to say Justice doesn't watch the bottom line.

Cary Copeland, director of the department's Executive Office for Asset
Forfeiture, says he tried to "squeeze the pipeline" in 1990 when the amount
forfeited lagged behind Justice's budget projections.

He said this was done by speeding up the process, not by doing "a whole
lot of seizures."

Ending the Abuse

While defense lawyers talk of reforming the law, agencies that initiate
forfeiture scarcely talk at all.

DEA headquarters makes a spectacle of busts like the seizure of fraternity
houses at the University of Virginia in March. But it refuses to supply
detailed information on the small cases that account for most of its

Local prosecutors are just as tight-lipped.

Thomas Corbett, U.S. Attorney for Western Pennsylvania, seals court
documents on forfeitures because "there are just some things I don't want
to publicize. The person whose assets we seize will eventually know, and
who else has to?"

Although some investigations need to be protected, there is an
"inappropriate secrecy" spreading throughout the country, says Jeffrey
Weiner, president-elect of the 25,000 member National Association of
Criminal Defense Lawyers.

"The Justice Department boasts of the few big fish they catch.  But they
throw a cloak of secrecy over the information on how many innocent people
are getting swept up in the same seizure net, so no one can see the
enormity of the atrocity."

Terwilliger says the net catches the right people: "bad guys" as he calls

But a 1990 Justice report on drug task forces in 15 states found they
stayed away from the in-depth financial investigations needed to cripple
major traffickers. Instead, "they're going for the easy stuff," says James
"Chip" Coldren, Jr., executive director of the Bereau of Justice
Assistance, a research arm of the federal Justice Department.

Lawyers who say the law needs to be changed start with the basics: The
government shouldn't be allowed to take property until after it proves
the owner guilty of a crime.

But they go on to list other improvements, including having police abide
by their state laws, which often don't give police as much lattitude as
the federal law. Now they can use federal courts to circumvent the state.

Tracy Thomas is caught in that very bind.

A jurisprudence version of the shell game hides roughly $13,000 taken from
Thomas, a resident of Chester, near Philadelphia.

Thomas was visiting in his godson's home on Memorial Day, 1990, when local
police entered looking for drugs allegedly sold by the godson. They found
none and didn't file a criminal charge in the incident. But they seized
$13,000 from Thomas, who works as a $70,000-a-year engineer, says his
attorney, Clinton Johnson.

The cash was left over from a Sherriff's sale he'd attended a few days
before, court records show. the sale required cash -- much like the
government's own auctions.

Duting a hearing over the seized money, Thomas presented a withdrawal slip
showing he'd removed money from his credit union shortly before the trip
and a receipt showing how much he had paid for the property he'd bought
at the sale. The balance was $13,000.

On June 22, 1990, a state judge ordered Chester police to return Thomas'

They haven't.

Just before the court order was issued, the police turned over the cash
to the DEA for processing as a federal case, forcing Thomas to fight
another level of government. Thomas is now suing the Chester police, the
arresting officer, and the DEA.

"When DEA took over that money, what they in effect told a local police
department is that it's OK to break the law," says Clinton Johnson,
attorney for Thomas.

Police manipulate the courts not only to make it harder on owners to
recover property, but to make it easier for police to get a hefty share
of any forfeited goods. In federal court, local police are guaranteed up
to 80 percent of the take -- a percentage that may be more than they'd
receive under state law.

Pennsylvania's leading police agency -- the state police -- and the state's
lead prosecutor -- the Attorney General -- bickered for two years over
state police taking cases to federal court, an arrangement that cut the
Attorney General out of the sharing.

The two state agencies now have a written agreement on how to divy the

The same debate is heard around the nation.

The hallways outside Cleveland courtrooms ring with arguments over who
will get what, says Jay Milano, a Cleveland criminal defense attorney.

"It's causing a feeding frenzy."

 The Pittsburgh Press, Monday, August 12, 1991

		P R E S U M E D   G U I L T Y
             The Law's Victims in the War on Drugs

Drug agents far more likely to stop minorities

By Andrew Schneider and Mary Pat Flaherty

Part Two: The way you look

Look around you carefully the next time you're at any of the nation's big
airports, bus stations, train terminals, or on a major highway because
there may be a government agent watching you. If you're black, Hispanic,
Asian or look like a "hippie," you can almost count on it.

The men and women doing the spying are drug agents, the frontline troops
in the governments war on narcotics. They count their victories in the
number of people they stop because they suspect they're carrying drugs or
drug money.

But each year in the hunt for suspects, thousands of guiltless citizens
are stopped, most often because of their skin color.

A 10-month Pittsburgh Press investigation of drug seizure and forfeiture
included an examination of court records on 121 "drug courier" stops where
money was seized and no drugs were discovered.  The Pittsburgh Press found
that black, Hispanic and Asian people accounted for 77 percent of the

In making stops, drug agents use a profile, a set of speculative behavioral
traits that gauge the suspect's appearance, demeanor and willingness to
look a police officer in the eye.

For years, the drug courier profile counted race as a principal indicator
of the likelihood of a person's carrying drugs.

But today the word "profile" isn't officially mentioned by police. Seeing
the word scrawled in a police report or hearing it from a witness chair
instantly unnerves prosecutors and makes defense lawyers giddy. Both sides
know the racial implications can raise constitutional challenges.

Even so, far away from the courtrooms, the practice persists.

In Memphis, Tenn., in 1989, drug officers have testified about 75 percent
of the people they stopped in the airport were black.  The latest figures
available from the Air Transport Association show that for that year only
4 percent of the flying public was black.

In Eagle County, Colo., the 60-mile-long strip on Interstate 70 that winds
and dips past Vail and other ski areas is the setting of a class-action
suit that charges race was the main element of the profile used in drug

According to court documents in one of the cases that led to the suit,
the sheriff and two deputies testified that "being black or Hispanic was
and is a factor" in their drug courier profile.

Lawyer David Lane says that 500 people -- primarily Hispanic and black
motorists -- were stopped and searched by Eagle County's High Country (ED:
What an appropriate name :-)) Drug Task Force during 1989 and 1990. Each
time, Lane charged, the task force used an unconstitutional profile based
on race, ethnicity and out-of-state license plates.

Byron Boudreaux was one of those stopped.

Boudreaux was driving from Oklahoma to a new job in Canada when Sgt. James
Perry and three other task force officers pulled him over.

"Sgt. Perry told me that I was stopped because my car fit the description
of someone trafficking drugs in the area," Boudreaux says.  He let the
officers search his car.

"Listen, I was a black man travelling alone up in the mountains of Eagle
County and surrounded by four police officers. I was going to be as
cooperative as I could," he recalls.

For almost an hour the officers unloaded and searched the suitcases,
laundry baskets, and boxes that were wedged into Bodreaux's car. Nothing
was found.

"I was stopped because I was black, and that's not a great testament to
our law enforcement system," says Boudreaux, who is now an assistant
basketball coach at Queens College in Charlotte, N.C.

In a federal trial stemming from another stop Perry made on the same road
a few months later, he testfied that because of "astigmatism and color
blindness" he was unable to distinguish among black, Hispanic and white

U.S. District Court Judge Jim Carrigan didn't buy it and called the
sargeant's testimony "incredible."

"If this nation were to win its war on drugs at the cost of sacrificing
its citizens' constitutional rights, it would be a Pyrrhic victory indeed,"
Carrigan wrote in a court opinion. "If the rule of law rather than the
rule of man is to prevail, there cannot be one set of search and seizure
rules applicable to some and a different set applicable to others."

Livelihood in jeopardy

In Nashville, Tenn., Willie Jones has no doubt that police still use a
profile based on race.

Jones, owner of a landscaping service, thought the ticket agent at the
American Airlines counter in Nashville Metro Airport reacted strangely
when he paid for his round-trip ticket to Houston.

"She said no one ever paid in cash anymore and she'd have to go in the
back and check on what to do," Jones says.

What Jones didn't know is that in Nashville -- as in other airports --
many airline employees double as paid informers for the police.

The Drug Enforcement Administration usually pays them 10 percent of any
money seized, says Capt, Judy Bawcum, head of the Nashville police division
that runs the airport unit.

Jones got his ticket. Ten minutes later, as he waited for his plane, two
drug team members stopped him.

"They flashed their badges and asked if I was carrying drugs or a large
amount of money. I told them I didn't have any drugs, but I had money on
me to go buy some plants for my business," Jones says.

They searched his overnight bag and found nothing. They patted him down
and felt a bulge. Jones pulled out a black plastic wallet hidden under
his shirt. It held $9,600.

"I explained that I was going to Houston to order some shrubbery for my
nursery. I do it twice a year and pay cash because that's the way the
growers want it," says the father of three girls.

The drug agents took his money.

"They said I was going to buy drugs with it, and the dogs sniffed it and
said it had drugs on it," Jones says. He never saw the dog.

The officers didn't arrest Jones, but they kept the money.  They gave him
a DEA receipt for cash. But under the heading of amount and desription,
Sgt. Claude Byrum wrote, "Unspecified amount of U.S.  currency."

Jones says losing the money almost put him out of business.

"That was to buy my stock. I'm known for having a good selection of unusual
plants. That's why I go South twice a year to buy them. Now, I've got to
do it piecemeal, run out after I'm paid for a job and buy plants for the
next one," he says.

Jones has receipts for three years showing that each fall and spring he
buys plants from nurseries in other states.

"I just don't understand the government. I don't smoke. I don't drink. I
don't wear gold chains and jewelry, and I don't get into trouble with the
police," he says. "I didn't know it was against the law for a 42-year-old
black man to have money in his pocket."

Tennessee police records confirm that the only charge ever filed against
Jones was for drag racing 15 years ago.

"DEA says I have to pay $900, 10 percent of the money they took from me,
just to have the right to try to get it back," Jones says.

His lawyer, E.E. "Bo" Edwards filled out government forms documenting that
his client couldn't afford the $900 bond.

"If I'm going to feed my children, I need my truck, and the only way I
can get that $900 is to sell it," Jones says.

It's been more than five months, and the only thing Jones has recieved
for DEA are letters saying that his application to proceed without paying
the $900 bond was deficient. "But they never told us what those
deficiencies were," says Edwards.

Jones is nearly resigned to losing the money. "I don't think I'll ever
get it back. But I think the only reason they thought I was a drug dealer
was because I'm black, and that bothers me."

It also bothers his lawyer.

"Of course he was stopped because he was black. No cop in his right mind
would try that with a white businessman. Those seizure laws give law
enforcement a license to hunt, and the target of choice for many cops is
those they believe are least capable of protecting themselves: blacks,
Hispanics, and poor whites," Edwards says.

Money still held

In Buffalo, N.Y., on Oct. 9, Juana Lopez, a dark-skinned Dominican, had
just gotten off a bus from New York City when she was stopped in the
terminal by drug agents who wanted to search her luggage.

They found no drugs, but DEA Agent Bruce Johnson found $4,750 in cash
wrapped with rubber bands in her purse. the money, the 28-year-old womand
said, was to pay legal fees or bail for her common-law husband. After he
began questioning her, Johnson realized that he had arrested the husband
for drugs two months earlier in the same bus station.

Johnson called the office of attorney Mark Mahoney, where Ms.  Lopez said
she was heading, and verified her appointment.

Johnson then told the woman she was free to go, but her money would stay
with him because a drug dog had reacted to it.

Ms. Lopez has receipts showing the money was obtained legally -- a third
of it was borrowed, another third came from the sale of jewelry that
belonged to her and her husband, and the rest from her savings as a hair
stylist in the Bronx.

It has been more than nine months since the money was taken, and Assistant
U.S. atorney Richard Kaufman says that the investigation is continuing.

Robert Clark, a Mobile, Ala., lawyer who has defended many travellers,
says profile stops are the new form of racism.

"In the South in the 30's, we used to hang black folks. Now, given any
excuse at all, even legal money in their pockets, we just seize them to
death," he says.

Trivial pursuit

"If you took all the racial elements out of profiles," you'd be left with
nothing, says Nashville lawyer Edwards, who heads a new National
Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers task force to investigate
forfeiture law abuses.

"It would outrage the public to learn the trivial indicators that police
use as the basis for interfering with the right of the innocent."

Examination of more than 310 affadavits for seizure and profiles used by
28 different agencies reveals a conflicting collection or traits that
agents say they use to hunt down traffickers.

Guidlines for DEA drug task force agents in three adjacent states give
conflicting advice on when officers are supposed to become suspicious.

Agents in Illinois are told it's suspicious if their subjects are among
the first people off a plane, because it shows they're in a hurry.

In Michigan, the DEA says that being the last off a plane is suspicious
because the subject is trying to appear unconcerned.

And in Ohio, agents are told suspicion should surface when suspects deplane
in the middle of a group, that they may be trying to lose themselves in
the crowd.

One of the most mentioned indicators is that suspects were travelling to
or from a source city for drugs.

But a list of cities favored by drug couriers gleaned from the DEA
affadavits amounts to a compendium of every major community in the United

Seeming to be nervous, looking around, pacing, looking at a watch, making
a phone call -- all things that business travellers routinely do,
especially those who are late or don't like to fly -- sound alarms to
waiting drug agents.

Some agents change their mind about what makes them suspicious.

In Tennessee, an agent told a judge he was leery of a man because he
"walked quickly through the airport." Six weeks later, in another
affadavit, the same agent said his suspicions were aroused because the
suspect "walked with intentional slowness after getting off the bus."

In Albequerque, N.M., people have been stopped because they were standing
on the train platform watching people.

Whether you look at a police officer can be construed to be a suspicious
sign. One Maryland agent said he was wary because the subject "deliberately
did not look at me when he drove by my position." Yet another Maryland
trooper testified that he stopped a man because the "driver stared at me
when he passed."

Too much baggage, or not enough will draw the attention of the law.

You could be in trouble with drug agents if you're sitting in first class
and don't look as if you belong there.

DEA agent Paul Markonni, who is considered the "father" of the drug courier
profile, testified in a Florida court about why he stopped a man.

"We do see some real slimeballs, you know, some real dirtbags, that
obviously could not afford, unless they were doing something, to fly first
class," he told the court.

The newest extention of drug courier profiles are pagers and cellular

Based on the few cases that have reached the courts, the communication
devices -- which are carried by business people, nervous parents and
patients waiting for a transplant as well as drug couriers -- are primarily
suspicious when they are found on the belts or in the suitcases of
minorities or long-haired whites.

For police intent on stopping someone, any reason will do.

"If they're black, Hispanic, Asian or look like a hippie, that's a
stereotype, and the police will find some way to stop them if that's their
intent," says San Antonio lawyer Gerald Goldstein.

The perfect profile

A DEA agent thought that former New York Giants center Kevin Belcher
matched his profile. When Belcher got off a flight from Detroit on March
2, he was stopped by DEA's Dallas/Fort Worth Airport Narcotics Task Force.

The Texas officers had been called a short while earlier by a DEA agent
at Detroit's Metro Airport. A security screener had spotted a big, black
man carrying a large amount of money in his jacket pocket, the Detroit
agent reported to his southern colleagues.

Belcher was questioned about the purpose of the trip and was asked whether
he had any money. He gave the agents $18,265.

Belcher explained that he was going to El Past to buy some classic old
cars -- "1968 or '69 Camaros are what I'm looking for." Belcher, whose
professional football career ended after a near-fatal traffic accident in
New Jersey, told the agents he owned four Victory Lane Quick Oil Change
outlets in Michigan. The money came from sales, he said, and cash was what
auctioneers demanded.

A drug-sniffing dog was called, it reacted, and the money was seized.

Agent Rick Watson to Belcher he was free to go "but that I was going to
detain the monies to determine the origin of them."

In his seizure affadavit, Watson listed the matches he made between Belcher
and the profile of "other narcotic currency couriers encountered af DFW

Included in Watson's profile was that Belcher had bought a one-way ticket
on the date of travel; was traveling to a "source" city, El Paso, "where
drug dealers have long been known to be exporting large amounts of
marijuana to other parts of the country"; and was carrying $100, $50, $20,
$10, and $5 bills, "which is consistent with drug asset seizures."

Watson made no mention as to what denomination other than $1 bills was
left for non-drug traffickers to carry.

"The drug courier profile can be absolutely anything that the police
officer decides it is at that moment," says Albequerque defense lawyer
Nancy Hollander, one of the nation's leading authorities on drug profile

Wide net cast

Officials are reluctant to reveal how many inncocent people are ensnared
each day by profile stops. Most police departments say they don't keep
that information. Those that do are reluctant to discuss it.

"We don't like to talk much about what we seize at the (Nashville) airport
because it might stir up the public and make the airport officials unhappy
because we are somehow harrassing people. It would be great if we could
keep the whole operation secret," says Capt. Bawcum, in charge of the
Airport's drug team.

Capt. Rudy Sandoval, commander of Denver's vice bereau, says he doesn't
keep the airport numbers but estimated his police searched more than 2,000
people in 1990, but arrested on 49 and seized money from fewer than 50.

At Pittsburgh's airport, numbers are kept. The team searched 527 people
last year, and arrested 49.

A federal court judge in Buffalo, N.Y., says police stop too many innocent
people to catch too few crooks.

Judge George Pratt said he was shocked that police charged only 10 of the
600 people stopped in 1989 in the Buffalo airport and decried encroaching
on the constitutional rights of 590 innocent people.

In his opinion in the case, Pratt said that by conducting unreasonable
searches: "It appears that they have sacrificed the Fourth Amendment by
detaining 590 innocent people in order to arrest 10 who are not -- all in
the name of the 'war on drugs.' When, pray tell, will it end? Where are
we going?"

The Pittsburgh Press, Tuesday, August 13, 1991

The following article appeared as the HEADLINE on the FRONT PAGE

		P R E S U M E D   G U I L T Y
	    The Law's Victims in the War on Drugs

Police profit by seizing homes of innocent

by Andrew Schneider and Mary Pat Flaherty

Part Three: Innocent owners

The second time police came to the Hawaii home of Joseph and Frances Lopes,
they came to take it.

"They were in a car and a van. I was in the garage. They said, 'Mrs. Lopes,
let's go into the house, and we will explain things to you.' They sat in
the dining room and told me they were taking the house. It made my heart
beat very fast."

For the rest of the day, 60-year-old Frances and her 65-year-old husband,
Joseph, trailed federal agents as they walked through every room of the
Maui house, the agents recording the position of every piece of furniture
on a video-tape that serves as the government's inventory.

Four years after their mentally unstable adult son pleaded guilty to
growing marijuana in their back yard for his own use, the Lopeses face
the loss of their home. A Maui detective trolling for missed forfeiture
opportunities spotted the old case. He recognized that the law allowed
him to take away their property because they knew their son had committed
a crime on it.

A forfeiture law intended to strip drug traffickers of ill-gotten gains
often is turned on people, like the Lopeses, who have not committed a
crime. The incentive for police to do that is financial, since the federal
government and most states let the police departments keep the proceeds
from what they take.

The law tries to temper money-making temptations with protections for
innocent owners, including lien-holders, landlords whose tennants misuse
property, or people unaware of their spouse's misdeeds. The protection is
supposed to cover anyone with an interest in a property who can prove he
did not know about the alleged illegal activity, did not consent to it,
or took all reasonable steps to prevent it.

But a Pittsburgh Press investigation found that those supposed safeguards
do not come into play until after the government takes an asset, forcing
innocent owners to hire attorneys to get their property back -- if they
ever do.

"As if the law weren't bad enough, they just clobber you financially,"
says Wayne Davis, an attorney from Little Rock, Ark.

Feared for their son

In 1987, Thomas Lopes, who was then 28 and living in his parents' home,
pleaded guilty to growing marijuana in their back yard. Officers spotted
it from a helicopter.

Because it was his first offense, Thomas recieved probation and an order
to see a psychologist. From the time he was young, mental problems
tormented Thomas, and though he visited a psychologist as a teen, he had
refused to continue as he grew older, his parents say.

Instead, he cloistered himself in his bedroom, leaving only to tend the

"We did ask him to stop, and he would say, 'Don't touch it', of he would
do something to himself," says the elder Lopes, who worked on a sugar
plantation and lived in its rented camp housing for 30 years while he
saved to buy his own home.

Given Thomas' history, and a family history of mental problems that caused
a grandparent and an uncle to be committed to institutions, the threats
stymied his parents.

The Lopeses, says their attorney Matthew Metnzer, "were under duress.
Everyone who has been diagnosed in this family ended up being taken away.
They could not conceive of any way of getting rid of the dope, without
getting rid of their son, or losing him forever."

When police arrived to arrest Thomas, "I was so happy because I knew he
would get care," says his mother. He did, and he continues weekly doctor
visits. His mood is better, Mrs. Lopes says, and he had never again grown
marijuana or been arrested.

But his guilty plea haunts his family.

Because his parents admitted they knew what he was doing, their home was
vulnerable to forfeiture.

Back when Thomas was arrested, police rarely took homes. But since,
agencies have learned how to use the law, and have seen the financial
payoff, says Assistant U.S. Attorney Marshall Silverberg, of Honolulu.

The also carefully review old cases for overlooked forfeiture
possibilities, he says. The detective who uncovered the LLopes case started
a forfeiture action in February -- just under the five-year deadline for
staking such a claim.

"I concede the time lapse on this case is longer than most, but there was
a violation of the law, and that makes this appropriate, not
money-grubbing," says Silverberg. "The other way to look at this, you
know, is that the Lopeses could be happy we let them live there as long
as we did."

They don't see it that way.

Neither does their attorney, who says his firm now has about eight similar
forfeiture cases, all of them stemming from small-time crimes that occured
years ago but were resurrected. "Digging these cases out now is a business
proposition, not law enforcement," Menzer says.

"We thought it was all behind us," says Lopes. Now, "there isn't a day I
don't think about what will happen to us."

They remain in the house, paying taxes and mortgage, until the forfeiture
case is resolved. Given court backlogs, that won't likely be until the
middle of next year, Menzer says.

They've been warned to leave everything as it was when the videotape was

"When they were going out the door," Mrs. Lopes says of the police, "they
told me to take good care of the yard. They said they would be coming back
one day."

'Dumb judgement'

Protections for innocent owners are "a neglected issue in federal and
state forfeiture law," concluded the Police Executive Research Forum in
its March bulletin.

But a chief policy maker on forfeiture maintains that the system is
actively interested in protecting the rights of the innocent.

George J. Terwilliger III, associate deputy general in the Justice
Department, admits that there may be instances of 'dumb judgement.' And
says if there's a 'systemic' problem, he'd like to know about it.

But attorneys who battle forfeiture cases say dumb judgement is the
systemic problem. And they point to some of Terwilliger's own decisions
as examples.

The forfeiture policy that Terwilliger crafts in the nation's capital he
puts to use in his other federal job: U.S. attorney for Vermont.

A coalition of Vermont residents, outraged by Terwilliger's forfeitures
of homes in which small children live, launched a grass-roots movement
called "Stop Forfeiture of Children's Homes." Three months old, the group
has about 70 members from school principals to local medical societies.

Forfeitures are a particularly sensitive issue in Vermont where state law
forbids taking a person's primary home. That restriction appears nowhere
in federal law, which means Vermont police departments can circumvent the
state constraint by taking forfeiture cases through federal courts.

The playmaker for that end-run: Terwilliger.

"It's government sponsored child abuse that's destroying the future of
children all over this state in the name of fighting the drug war," says
Dr. Kathleen DePierro, a family practitioner who works at Vermont State
Hospital, a psychiatric facility in Waterbury.

The children of Karen and Reggie Lavallee, ages 6, 9 and 11, are precisely
the type of victims over which the Vermonters agonize. Reggie Lavalle is
serving a 10-year sentence in a federal prison in Minnesota for cocaine

Because police said he had been involved in drug trafficking, his
conviction cost his family their ranch house on 2 acres in a small village
20 miles east of Burlington. For the first time, the family is on welfare,
in a rented duplex.

"I don't condone what my husband did, but why victimize my children because
of his actions? That house wasn't much, but it was ours. It was a home
for the children, with rabbits, chicken, turkeys and a vegetable garden.
Their friends were their and they liked the school," says Mrs. Lavallee,

After the eviction, "every night for months, Amber cried because she
couldn't see her friends. I'd like to see the government tell this
9-year-old that this isn't cruel and unusual punishment."

Terwilliger's dual role particularly troubles DePierro. "It's horrifying
to know he's setting policy that could expand this type of terror and
abuse to kids in every state in the nation."

Terwilliger calls the groups allegations absurd. "If there was someone to
blame, it would be the parents and not the government."

Lawyers like John MacFadyen, a defense attorney in Providence, R.I., find
it harder to fix blame.

"The flaw with the innocent owner thing is that life doesn't paint itself
in black and white. It's oftentimes gray, and there is no room for gray
in these laws," MacFadyen says. As a consequence, prosecutors presume
everyone guilty and leave it to them to show otherwise. "That's not good
judgement. In fact, if defies common sense."

Proving innocence

Innocent owners who defend their interests expose themselves to questioning
that bores deep into their private affairs. Because the forfeiture law is
civil, they also have no protection against self incrimination, which
means they risk having anything they say used against them later.

The documentation required of innocent owner Loretta Stearns illustrates
how deeply the government plumbs.

The Connecticut woman lent her adult son $40,000 in 1988 to but a home in
Tequesta, Fla., court documents show.

Unlike many parents who treat such transactions informally, she had the
foresight to record the loan as a mortgage with Palm Beach County. Her
action ultimately protected her interest in the house after the federal
government seized it, claiming her son stored cocaine there. He has not
been charged criminally.

The seizure occured in November, and it took until last May before Mrs.
Stearns convinced the government she had a legitimate interest in the

To prove herself an innocent owner, Mrs. Stearns met 14 requests for
information, including providing "all documents of any kind whatsoever
pertaining to your mortgage, including but not limited to, loan
application, credit reports, record of mortgage and mortgage payments,
title reports, appraisal reports, closing documents, records of any liens,
attachments on the defendant's property, records of payments, cancelled
checks, internal correspondence or notes (handwritten or typed) relating
to any of the above and opinion letter from borrower's or lender's counsel
relating to any of the above."

And that was just question No. 1.

Landlord as cop

Innocent owners are supposed to be shielded in forfeitures, but at times
they've been expected to become virtual cops in order to protect their
property from seizure.

T.T. Masonry Inc. owns a 36-unit apartment building in Milwaukee, Wis.
that's plauged by dope dealing. Between January, 1990, when it bought the
building, and July 1990, when the city formally warned it about problems,
the landlord evicted 10 tenants suspected of drug use, gave a master key
to local beat and vice cops, forwarded tips to police, and hired two
security firms -- including an off-duty police officer -- to patrol the

Despite that effort, the city seized the property.

Assistant City Attorney David Stanosz says "once a property develops a
reputation as a place to buy drugs, the only way to fix that is to leave
it totally vacant for a number of months. This landlord doesn't want to
do that."

Correct, says Jerome Buting, attorney for Tom Torp of Masonry.

"If this building is such a a target for dealers, use that fact," says
Buting. "Let undercover people go in. But when I raised that, the answer
was they were short of officers and resources."

It looks like coke

Grady McClendon, 53, his wife, two of their adult children and two
grandchildren -- 7 and 8 -- were in a rented car headed to their Florida
home in August 1989. They were returning from a family reunion in Dublin,

In Fitzgerald, Ga., McClendon made a wrong turn on a one-way street. Local
police stopped him, checked his identification, and asked his permission
to search the car. He agreed.

Within minutes, police pulled open suitcases and purses, emptying-out
jewelry and about 10 Florida state lottery tickets. They also found a
registered handgun.

Then, says McClendon, the police "started waving a little stick they said
was cocaine. They told me to put on my glasses and take a good look. I
told them I'd never seen cocaine for real, but that didn't look like TV."

For about six hours, police detained the McClendon family at the police
station where officers seized $2,300 in cash and other items as
"instruments of drug activity and gambling paraphernalia" -- a reference
to the lottery tickets.

Finally, the gave the McClendon's a traffic ticket and released them, but
kept the family possessions.

For 11 months, McClendon's attorney argued with the state, finally forcing
it to produce lab test results on the "cocaine."

James E. Turk, the prosecutor who handled the case, will say only "it came
back negative."

"That's because it was bubble gum," says Jerry Froelich, McClendon's
attorney. A judge returned the McClendon's items.

Turk considers the search "a good stop. They had no proof of where they
lived beyond drivers' licenses. They had jewelry that could have been
contraband, but we couldn't prove it was stolen. And they had more cash
than I would expect them to carry."

McClendon says, "I didn't see anything wrong with them asking to search
me. That's their job. But the rest of it was wrong, wrong, wrong."

Seller, beware

Owners who press the government for damages are rare. Those who do are
often helped by attorneys who forgo their usual fees because of their own
indignation over the law.

For nearly a decade, the lives of Carl and Mary Shelden of Moraga, Calif.,
have been intertwined with the life of a convicted criminal who happened
to buy their house.

The complex litigation began when the Shelden's sold their home in 1979,
but took back a deed of trust from the buyer -- an arrangement that made
the Shelden's a mortgage holder on the house.

Four years later the buyer was arrested and convicted of running an
interstate prostitution ring. His property, including the home on which
the Shelden's held the mortgage, was forfeited. The criminal, pending his
appeal, went to jail, but the government allowed his family to live in
the home rent-free.

Panicked when they read about the arrest in the newspaper, the Shelden's
discovered they couldn't forclose against the government and couldn't
collect mortgage payments from the criminal.

After tortuous court appearances, the Shelden's got back the home in 1987,
but discovered it was so severely damaged while in government control that
they can now stick their hands between the bricks near the front door.

The home the Shelden's sold in 1979 for $289,000 was valued at $115,500
in 1987 and now needs nearly $500,000 in repairs, the Sheldens say, chiefly
from uncorrected drainage problems that caused a retaining wall to let
loose and twist apart the main house.

Disgusted, they returned to court, saying their Fifth Amaendment rights
had been violated. The amendment prohibits the taking of private property
for public use without just compensation. Their attorney, Brenda Grantland
of Washington, D.C., argues that when the government seized the property
but failed to sell it promptly and pay off the Sheldens, it violated their

Between 1983 and today, the Sheldens have defended their mortgage through
every type of court: forclosures, U.S. District Court, Bankruptcy, U.S.

In January, 1990, a federal judge issued an opinion agreeing the Sheldens
rights had been violated. The government asked the judge to reconsider,
and he agreed. A final opinion has not been issued.

"It's been a roller coaster," says Mrs. Shelden, 46. A secretary, she is
the family's breadwinner. Shelden, 50, was permanently disbaled when he
broke his back in 1976 while repairing his home. Because he was unable to
work, the couple couldn't afford the house, so they sold it -- the act
that pitched them into their decade-long legal quagmire.

They've tried to rent the damaged home to a family -- a real estate agent
showed it 27 times with no takers -- then resorted to rennting to college
students, then room-by-room boarders. Finally, they and their children,
ages 21 and 16, moved back in.

"We owe Brenda (Grantland) thousands at this point, but she's really been
a doll," says Shelden. "Without people like her, people like us wouldn't
stand a chance."

Pittsburgh Press, Wednesday, Aug 14, 1991

The following article appeared as the HEADLINE on the FRONT PAGE

		P R E S U M E D     G U I L T Y
	     The law's victims in the war on drugs

Crime pays big for informants in forfeitures

By Andrew Schneider and Mary Pat Flaherty The Pittsburgh Press

Part Four: The informants

They snitch at all levels, from the Hell's Angel whose testimony across
the country has made him into a millionaire, to the Kirksville, Mo.,
informant who worked for the equivalent of a fast-food joint's hourly

The snitch for all reasons, from criminals who do it in return for lighter
sentences to private citizens motivated by civic-mindedness.

But it's only with the recent boom in forfeiture that paid informants
began snitching for a hefty cut of the take.

With the spread of forfeiture actions has come a new, and some say
problematic, practice: guaranteeing police informants that if their tips
result in a forfeiture, the informants will get a percentage of the

And that makes crime pay. Big.

The Asset Forfeiture Fund of the U.S. Justice Department last year gave
$24 million to informants as their share of forfeited items.  It has $22
million earmarked this year.

While plenty of those payments go to informants who match the stereotype
of a shady, sinister opportunist, many are average people you could meet
on any given day in an airport, bus terminal or train station.

In fact, if you travel often, you have likely met them -- whether you knew
it or not.

Counter clerks notice how people buy tickets. Cash? A one-way trip?

Operators of X-ray machines watch for "suspicious" shadows and not only
for outlines of weapons, which is what signs at checkpoints say they're
scanning. They look for money, "suspicious" amounts that can be called to
the attention of law enforcement -- and maybe net a reward for the

Police affadavits and court testimony in several cities show clerks for
large package handlers, including United Parcel Service and Continental
Airlines Quick Pak, open "suspicious" packages and alert police to what
they find. To do the same thing, police would need a search warrant.

At 16 major airports, drug agents, counter and baggage personnel, and
management reveal an underground economy running off seizures and

All but one of the airports' drug interdiction teams reward private
employees who pass along reports about suspicious activity.  Typically,
they get 10% of the value of whatever is found.

The Greater Pittsburgh International Airport team does not and questions
the propriety of the practice.

Under federal and most states' laws, forfeiture proceeds return to the
law enforcement agency that builds the case. Those agencies also control
the rewards of informants.

The arrangement means both police and the informants on whom they rely
now have a financial incentive to seize a person's goods -- a mix that
may be too intoxicating, says Lt. Norbert Kowalski.

He runs Greater Pitt's joint 11-person Allegheny County Police-Pennsylvania
State Police interdiction team.

"Obviously, we want all the help we can get in stopping these drug
traffickers. But having a publicized program that pays airport or airline
employees to in effect, be whistle-blowers, may be pushing what's proper
law enforcement to the limit," he says.

He worries that the system might encourage unnecessary random searches.

His team checked passengers arriving from 4,230 flights last year. Yet
even with it's avowed cautious approach, the team stopped 527 people but
netted only 49 arrests.

At Denver's Stapleton Airport -- where most of the drug team's cases start
with informant tips -- officers also made 49 arrests last year. But they
stopped about 2,000 people for questioning, estimates Capt. Rudy Sandoval,
commander of the city's Vice and Drug Control Bureau.

As Kowalski sees it, the public vests authority in police with the
expectation that they will use it legally and judiciously. The public
can't get those same assurances from police designees, like counter clerks,
says Kowalski.

With money as an inducement, "you run the risk of distorting the system,
and that can infringe on the rights of travellers. If someone knows they
can get a good bit of money by turning someone in, then they may imagine
seeing or hearing things that aren't there. What happens when you get to

In Nashville, that's not much of an issue. Juries rarely get to hear from

Police who work the airports deliberately delay paying informants until
a case has been resolved "because we don't want these tipsters to have to
testify. If we don't pay them until the case is closed they don't have to
risk going to court," says Capt. Judy Bawcum, commander of the vice
division for the Nashville Police Department.

That means their motivation can't be questioned.

Bawcum says it may appear the airport informants are working solely for
the money, but she believes there's more to it. "I admit these (X-ray)
guards are getting paid less than burger flippers at McDonalds and the
promise of 10 percent of $50,000 or whatever is attractive. But to refuse
to help us is not a progressive way of thinking," says Bawcum. "This is
a public service."

But not all companies share the view that their employees should be public
servants. Package handling companies and Wackenhut, the X-ray checkpoint
security firm, refuse to allow Nashville police to use their employees as

"They're so fearful a promise of a reward will prompt their people to
concentrate on looking for drugs instead of looking for weapons," says

Far from being uncomfortable with the notion of citizen-cops, Bawcum says
her department relies on them. "We need airport employees working for us
because we've only got a very small handful of officers," at the airport,
she says.

For her, the challenge comes in sustaining enthusiasm, especially when
federal agencies like the DEA are "way too slow paying out." Civic duty
carries only so far. "It's hard to keep them watching when they have to
wait for those rewards. We can't lose that incentive."

Most drug teams hold tight the details of how their system works and how
much individual informants earn, preferring to keep their public service

But in a Denver court case, attorney Alexander DeSalvo obtained photocopies
of police affadavits about tipsters and copies of three checks payable to
a Continental airline clerk, Melissa Furtner.  The checks, from the U.S.
Treasury and Denver County, total $5,834 for the period from September
1989 to August 1990.

Ms. Furtner, reached by phone at her home, was flustered by questions
about the checks.

"What do you want to know about the rewards? I can't talk about any of
it. It's not something I'm supposed to talk about. I don't feel comfortable
with this at all." She then hung up.

As hefty as the payments to private citizens can be, they are pin money
compared to the paychecks drawn by professional informants.

Among the best paid of all: convicted drug dealers, and self-confessed

Anthony Tait, a Hell's Angel and admitted drug user who has been a
cooperating witness for the FBI since 1985, earned nearly $1 million for
information he provided between 1985 and 1988, according to a copy of
Trait's payment schedule and FBI contract obtained by the Pittsburgh Press.

Of his $1 million, $250,000 was his share of the value of assets forfeited
as a result of his cooperation. His money came from four sources. FBI
officers in Anchorage and San Francisco; the State of California, and the
federal forfeiture fund.

Likewise, in a November 1990 case in Pittsburgh, the government paid a
former drug kingpin handsomely.

Testimony shows that Edward Vaughn of suburban San Francisco earned $40,000
in salary and expenses between August 1989 and October 1990 working for
DEA, drew an additional $500 a month from the U.S.  Marshall Service and
was promised a 25% cut of any forfeited goods.

Vaughn had run a multi-million dollar international drug smuggling ring,
been a federal fugitive, and twice served prison time before arranging an
early parole and paid informant deal with the government, he said in court.

As an informant, he said, he preferred arranging deals for drug agents
that are known as reverse stings: the law enforcement agents pose as
sellers and the targets bring cash for a buy. Those deals take cash, but
not dope, directly off the streets. In those stings, he said, the cash
would be forfeited and Vaught would get his pre-arranged quarter-share.

His testimony in Pittsburgh resulted in one man being found guilty of
conspiracy to distribute marijuana. The jury acquited the other defendant
saying they believed Vaughn had entrapped him by pursuing him so
aggressively to make a dope deal.

The practice of giving informants a share of forfeited proceeds goes on
so discreetly that Richard Wintory, an Oklahoma prosecutor and forfeiture
proponent who until recently headed the National Drug Prosecution Center
in Alexandria, Va., says, "I'm not aware of any agency that pays
commissions on forfeited items to informants."

Although the federal forfeiture program funnels millions of dollars to
informants, it does not set policy at the top about how -- or how much --
to pay.

"Decisions about how to pursue investigations within the guidelines of
appropriate and legal behavior are best left to the people in the field,"
says George Terwilliger III, the deputy attorney general who heads the
Justice department's forfeiture program.

That hands-off approach filters to local offices, such as Pittsburgh,
where U.S. Attornet Thomas Corbett says the discussion of whether to give
informants a cut of any take "is a philisophical argument. I won't put
myself in the middle of it."

The absence of regulations spawns "privateers and junior G-men," says
Steven Sherick, a defense attorney in Tucson, Ariz., who recently recovered
$9,000 for John P. Gray of Rutland, Vt., after a UPS employee found it in
a package and called police.

Gray, says Sherick, is "an eccentric older guy who doesn't use anything
but cash." In March, 1990, Gray mailed a friend hand-money for a piece of
Arizona retirement property Gray had scouted during an earlier trip West,
says court records. The court ordered the money returned because the state
couldn't prove the cash was gained illegally.

Expanding payments to private citizens, particularly on a sliding scale
rather than a fixed fee, raises unsavory possibilities, says Eric E.
Sterling, head of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, a think tank in
Washington, D.C.

Major racketeers and criminal enterprises were the initial targets of
forfeiture, but its use has steadily expanded until it now catches people
who have never been accused of crime but lose their property anyway.

"You can win a forfeiture case without charging someone," says Sterling.
"You can win even after they've been acquitted. And now, on top of that,
you can have informants tailoring their tips to the quality of the thing
that will be seized.

"What paid informant in their right mind is going to turn over a crack
house -- which may be destroying an inner city neighborhood -- when he
can turn over information about a nice, suburban spread that will pay off
big when it comes time to get his share?" asks Sterling.